You’ve sensed that you need something more or different from someone important to you in the organization in order for you to perform at your best. You’ve been elusive about the issue, telling them what you need indirectly hoping they’ll “get it.” You’ve been doing this dance for a long time and nothing has changed. You’re frustrated, feeling like you’ve done everything possible without the results you want.
Here’s news: they may not fully understand what you want. You’ve been too indirect while you both spin in this waltz. If the person causing you grief is a peer, you’ve started to go around them or avoid them. If it’s a direct report, you’re thinking of firing them. If the person is your boss, you’re thinking you need a new job.
The waltz is going nowhere and doing nothing to improve the relationship or the situation you’re in. You’re miserable and you know you’ll run into this again at some point in your career, so you need to do your part to fix it.
Could it be that you need to have a deeper, more direct conversation to go beyond this place where you’re both stuck? It takes courage, a willingness to be vulnerable, and just a bit of savvy.
What is the real issue that I’ve avoided? Let’s imagine you have a manager who likes to micromanage. You continue to tell him “I’ll take care of things, you don’t have to” or “Trust me and my staff to get this done on time.” This has been going on for ages, and he still does the same frustrating things he’s always done, reaching deep into your organization to confirm that things are on track. This tells us that you aren’t getting to the core issue. That is that he’s confusing you and others in your organization with his compulsive involvement in things that you should manage. Once you realize this, you can sit down and address the issue directly but respectfully and see if you can come to a compromise that will satisfy both of you.
How can I address this issue with care? You’ll want to honor and respect the person you are addressing, even if you don’t like them. A question is a great way to begin the conversation: “May I give you some feedback?” The chances of that person saying “no” are slim. Remember to do a lot of listening, and make them feel heard (because listening to someone honors them in a way that talking at them doesn’t).
What will it take for me to feel confident? Your confidence in addressing this issue is important. Some people (like me) prefer to feel like they have a plan. So I make sure that I feel confident that I’m addressing the right issue. I like to reflect and take a few notes while I’m thinking through what I need to say and maybe even “practice” a bit with someone I trust to give me good feedback. Others prefer to wing it, since a conversation will rarely go in the direction you expect it to.
How will I manage myself? Admit it, this conversation scares you. It has the ability to hijack your best laid plans to be respectful in a nano-second. The trick is to notice when you get anxious, fearful, or angry. What happens? Where do you feel that emotion in your body (because that is where emotion begins)? You might feel your gut twist, or your throat close, or your temples pulse. All of these are good signs to take a deep, slow breath and make a choice: Do you want to express anger, clam up, or continue with the plan you created?
Even the best leaders have been known to avoid these conversations on real issues. Indirect strategies and avoidance don’t work, and that means frustration, anger or even a new job for you or the other person. Instead, put on your big-person pants and have a deeper conversation before you take more drastic measures.
Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 12 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive consulting firm.
Image via tarczas/Shutterstock.com.