See that lively green, healthy plant thriving right there which looks different than the others? If you look closely, it’s got tiny spikes coming out of its leaves.
You have one of those, right now in the back of your mind, and quite possibly in your team, your culture or the project you’re working on.
That plant is actually an invasive weed, unwanted, yet growing healthily and strong in the midst of my other plants. I’ve been walking past it for weeks now, thinking “I should pull that,” since it doesn’t belong and is sucking important energy and nutrients from all of the other plants I want to grow around it. Yet it hasn’t really stood out much to others, I knew I’d get thorns in my hand pulling it out, and suspected that once I went to pull it, I’d be into a whole project, seeing others I need to spend more time pulling.
So… I just kept walking by.
Where are you doing the same thing… just walking by that thing you know you should actually address?
You have “weeds” like this, too. Maybe in your yard, but absolutely in your world. They are the unwanted issues, dysfunctional dynamics, and negative attitudes which are at best unhelpful for what you’re trying to achieve, and at worst toxic… which will just keep going and growing until you address them. Yep- they’re prickly, going there is uncomfortable, and you suspect in the back of your mind that if you do, you might then see way more like it you’ll have to deal with. I get it.
Think of one person in your world with whom you know you need to address an unmet expectation, a pattern of unproductive behaviors or a dysfunctional communication.
Yep- that one.
Leaders tell me every day reasons why they don’t address these issues (especially when I’m coaching them to do just that). Every reason has to do with avoidance of confrontation, discomfort, drama, a potentially tough conversation, or fear of causing an additional dynamic of tension with someone by doing so. Can you relate? You're not alone.
Now identify the reasons you’ve given yourself for why you haven’t had that “tough” conversation yet.
So, we all can predict what happened when I finally decided to pull that weed this morning. Shocker- it had become thornier, stronger and harder to pull than it would’ve been 2 wks ago when I first spotted it. It also had multiplied- I indeed found more weeds once I got in there, that had camoflagued themselves, steadily sucking energy and nutrients to grow stronger from all of my healthy plants around them, now a bit less vibrant than they should be.
We know that in human dynamics, negative energy is infortunately more powerful and faster-spreading than positive. This is clutch for you, the culture of your team, and your own energy; the longer you leave it alone, the bigger, stronger it gets..
How have the invasive, “weedy” behaviors, interactions and attitudes been sucking energy away from you and all the healthy dynamics, people and things around them? How much energy and time have your spent/lost thinking about doing it or not, or upset about the existing dynamic?
While this metaphoric weed-pulling challenge might be one of the most common challenges I see as a coach from leaders across the board, it’s also the one thing that might keep your team, your organization, your energy, your leadership and your impact from being truly great unless we get it to shift.
Imagine being able to have what you’ve thought of before as thorny conversations directly, quickly and easily, causing positive shift in people’s behavior, patterns, thinking and interactions.
We don’t have many great models in our culture for this; we think that our choices are either a big confrontation (messy for all the reasons we fear) or just avoiding/dealing with it (which only lets it get worse). Yet there’s another way.
This simple frame, guaranteed to cut the drama, will keep the other person listening, and help you say everything you need to say directly, yet easily, in a way that moves things forward. Credit to my friends at Quantum Learning Network, who have been teaching this simple tool for decades in its programs world over.
The steps to make it easy:
Say the following out loud (it’s an acronymn, so saying it out loud will help you remember the actual steps of the model when you need it): “Open The Front Door.”
1. O = Observation- Tell the facts of what occurred, from a fly-on-the-wall perspective (what was said, what behaviorally happened, in what order). No assessments or characterizations.
This gets you and the other person in the same realm of reality- from the same reference point of what actually occurred (which you should be able to agree on).
“I noticed that today was the third time in the last two weeks that we got to a deadline in the project where I expected your team's part to be complete as we agreed, and it wasn’t.”
2. T = Thought- what the actions triggered you to think, your opinion or assessment; the story you've made up in your head about what happened.
This is where you get to share the impact in your world of what occurred, the interpretation you made of it, and what you now think as a result.
“I’m thinking that this is becoming a bottleneck as the project gets delayed further, and the team it waiting. I'm wondering how else I can support your team, yet also realizing that I'm becoming a little less and less inclined to trust that what we agree to is going to happen when we say it will, which I don't want to do.”
3. F = Feeling- Name the emotion you have now. This tells them the upset that they’ve triggered.
4. D = Desire- Say what you’d like to have happen, and ask for a next step toward it. This gives you the place to say what you'd like to be different, and gives the other person an opening to be able to move forward actionably and constructively. This is a game-changer, as it's what truly opens the door for the other person to respond in a way that moves you both forward into a new pattern. You're giving them a directed, productive path to respond back to you without having to get defensive. Without this step, you're still just confronting them with the issue, rather than moving things forward. [By the way, if you're a person who's higher on the confronting spectrum, this will be a key new piece for you, which can make what you bring much easier for others to respond to.]
“I'd like the project to move forward, for us to get our teams to a place where they can trust one another to hit these deadlines, and have a system in place to hit them smoothly. Can we have a conversation to explore how that can happen and reset?”
Warning: It might feel weird to organize your thoughts into this order. Yet the key to this tool is the order of its parts, as it layers all the pieces you need to communicate into a sequence another person can listen through without getting defensive (try mixing up the order, and it gets confrontational quickly).
An important note on the Feeling part:
Own it. We’ve all heard “keep the emotions out of it” and “don’t make it personal,” right? Bad advice, actually. We tout ideas like that because emotions can be strong, we don’t have great practice or comfort in understanding them or expressing them productively (when they’re negative), so we think it best just to keep them out. So one of two things happens-
- We go into ice mode, with no expression, no emotion, and ultimately no connection with the other person, which ironically elicits more [negative] emotion from them in feeling iced.
- We hold it in, but then get to the point where our emotions boil over, and the communication is a confrontation, led and driven by our inflamed emotion, getting all over the other person. “I’m mad…”
Neither one of those is very smooth or effective. Yet we all have emotions, and they’re already in there. They are what make us passionate and also able to relate to others and have these relationships in the first place, right? AND, they’re also rarely a secret. People read your emotion when you want them to, yet also when we think we’re hiding it… but not always so accurately, especially in a moment of conflict. It’s all over our tone, face, and body language, and often intense in these types of moments, so unless you tell them what your emotion is, they can misread it through their own bias, and then “how the big conversation went” sharing afterward is left to their interpretation of your emotion. Don’t leave that completely to them! Call it, own it, name it, and move on. They’ll get the gravity of the conversation by hearing your emotion, plus you’ll control what they take away by making the most potentially dramatic part of it not needing to be interpreted, because you named it directly and calmly.
This morning I actually pulled those weeds out. Done.
My attention will never be distracted by them again as I walk by, and those other plants are already getting healthier, because it’s solved.
And… it only took a few minutes.
The conversations you need to have to pull those invasively weedy issues won’t take nearly as much time or energy than you think they will, and I’m betting that the energy they’re sucking from the healthy dynamics and people around them is far greater than the exertion it’ll take for you to just have the conversation already.
Decide when you’ll have your first direct conversation trying the model. The sooner the better. Tick tock.
You can have direct, clear, non-dramatic conversations in which you address it, get the unhealthy stuff out of the mix, and move forward. Quickly. Easily. And without injury.
(and, the best part of all…)