Why do we make it harder than it needs to be?

Recently I had the pleasure of hearing a group of Business Leaders give their end-of-program presentations to a select audience.

The presentations cap off a year of facilitated personal learning, where participants are encouraged to explore a range of concepts and to develop themselves into the person/leader they really want to be.

The process is confronting and challenging, but has been described as immensely rewarding.

It’s at these presentations that I, as the facilitator, get the opportunity to hear how I’ve done, as the true test of a facilitator’s worth is surely in the eyes of those you seek to help.

This is no different to the role of Manager or Leader; it’s our followers or workers that are the true test of our performance. If our team has a good positive culture then the Leader or Manager should accept responsibility for their role in creating this culture. Clearly we should not avoid the same responsibility if the culture (behaviour, work ethic, etc…) is not so positive.

You see blame and excuses don’t cut it in our model – only acceptance of responsibility and a desire to improve.

So back to the presentations – there were a few trends throughout the morning but the one that is relevant to this article is how a large number of participants acted on our message to have “genuine conversations’. It was obvious that all of them had created the image of the conversations being bigger (nastier or more difficult) than they ended up being with every presenter reporting positive results from their conversations.

Why is it that we do that, make things bigger than they are? It could be a defensive strategy, a way of allowing us to justify why we are avoiding the conversation. Why do we do that, avoid what we think might be difficult? It could be a comforting strategy, a way of maintaining false or artificial harmony. After all, it’s easier to say nothing – isn’t it?

Is that what it’s come to, maintaining harmony is more important than helping people?

My terminology is deliberate; it needs to be because I’m very aware of a little thing called self-talk. Billy Brownless (an AFL personality and sometime legend) calls it the little men on his shoulder, one good and positive and one negative and destructive.

The Self-Talk Cycle describes the connection between the language we use inside our head, the language we hear others say, and their influence on how we behave and the choices we make. Self-talk can be both positive and not-so-positive and it is very powerful. To exaggerate the situation, the choices we make and the behaviour we display reinforce what we and others say. Positive behaviour and choice can assist positive self-talk and negative behaviour reinforces the original self-talk. That’s why I’m very particular about language and what I allow others to say.

Genuine doesn’t mean difficult, and providing feedback to someone about how they can change their behaviour, or their choices, isn’t bad – it’s helpful. But the self-talk cycle isn’t so simple, it’s almost like a competition which is exactly how Billy describes it, one little fellow telling you how bad it will be and one telling you how good it will be. The trouble is in the real world (a term I also hear a lot about) there are lots of little fellas talking to us – our family, our friends, our peers, the media, our bosses, politicians – everyone’s got a view. The trick is to filter those views and listen to the positive more than the negative, even more, to believe in the positive.

Genuine conversations are not difficult, they require practice and like so many things in life the more we practice the better we get, and the better we get the easier it becomes (or the easier we think it is).

At Leading Teams, we believe there is a connection between the strength of professional relationships within a team and genuine conversations. In essence if you have strong relationships you would be more likely to have genuine conversations with people and the quality of that feedback would not only be better, but it would be more likely to be received, even accepted and acted upon.

Imagine if you, as a leader, had given up hope that a peer or team member was unlikely to change – either they are unwilling or unable to do so. I’ve often heard excuses like, “Oh, they’re too old”, or “They’re too stubborn to listen”, and even, “Oh, I’ve told them already and nothing changes”. But I know all these excuses are simply the speaker trying to validate their own inaction or avoidance, to shift the blame from them to the other party.

If you’re a leader of a team and you have a team member whom you believe needs to change a behaviour (or work practice) and is unwilling to accept feedback and look to improve, that’s your responsibility. Why would they feel that way, what culture must exist in a team where such things are condoned?

In my experience, we don’t see enough praise being given for people’s efforts either, too often we overload the good worker (this is the cost of not addressing the lower standards of others) and we don’t say ‘thank you’ or ‘sorry’ enough. You see, “genuine” relates to positive as much as anything – if you need practice, start praising and saying ‘sorry’ just a little more – then move to other genuine conversations.

Kraig Grime

Kraig Grime

Kraig worked in leadership and change management at the Navy and Air Force for 20 years before joining Leading Teams in 2001. Kraig is based in Ballarat.