Avoiding the Minefield
By Chuck Cusumano and Jillian Broaddus
Can we agree that our current work environment, social network, family gatherings, internet postings, and even just boarding an airplane is like trying to cross a minefield blindfolded? And if we can agree on that one statement then let’s quit talking, because the odds tell us that there may not be another topic that we can discus without it getting heated! No matter what your view is on just about any subject, there is most likely a visceral opposing viewpoint that someone feels they must represent.
A report by Civility in America 2019 supported this sentiment, finding that 93% of Americans identified incivility as a problem; 68% stating it was a “major” problem and almost three-quarters saying that incivility was getting worse.
Customers harassing store clerks, passengers assaulting flight attendants, and parents threatening physical harm to school board members are now hardly even news-worthy! This aggressive public behavior is so common that we casually refer to it as ‘going postal’ (derived from a series of Post Office shootings). In fact, we have become so callous to this type of aggression that when our elected public officials are using foul language, threats of physical harm to each other, or publicly demeaning their fellow representatives, it is now considered by many to be a part of their job! Actions that half a generation ago would bar you from public life and maybe even land you in jail are now considered ‘theatrics’ or ‘entertainment.’
On one hand, the only way to cope with all of this is to overlook it, accept it, and move on. However, the more we accept it, the more it gains momentum as our "new normal."
On the other hand, if you challenge the behavior and call it out when you see it – you may be labeled as creating conflict and perpetuating the problem.
What a vicious cycle we have created for our society to overcome. As a consulting and coaching company, we are asked almost daily – Why don’t my managers hold the employees more accountable?, Can you train my team to engage in tough conversations more often?, and most recently, Our team does not communicate with each other – it must be all this remote working that is keeping them from communicating, right?
Well, part of the answer to those challenging questions is: Who wants to walk in that minefield?! Just using the words accountable, challenging, confrontational, or tough might now be considered ‘fighting words.’ If I am the owner of a business or the head of a department, do I want my leaders confronting the employees and holding them accountable for results? Sure I do, but in today’s charged climate, where it seems every interaction can cause an altercation, we may need to change our words and processes.
Common Ground: In the world of negotiations, finding a common ground is the keystone to success. We want to come alongside a partner to achieve a solution. Using words like ‘sides’ or ‘opposing points of view’ just lends to the polarization and creates an ‘us vs. them’ mentality. We want to train and encourage our teams to work towards a goal – the ‘carrot’ – not confront and hold accountable – the ‘stick.’ When we are not getting the results we need, asking how we can get to the desired destination is easier and avoids the minefield than telling them what they need to do. An example would be, "I am sure we can both agree that fulfilling the customer’s order and making sure we receive enough revenue to pay all of our salaries would be what we are trying to achieve?” Rather than, “The sales department is always giving away the farm and we can not keep up to satisfy this demand, so we need to hold them accountable and raise prices to slow down the orders.”
Managers vs. Leaders: In today’s world, being managed is to be controlled. It is something that is done to us. We do not want to be told what to do (masks, vaccines, taxes... enough said?). We want to be lead to a desired destination. Leadership is what is desired. If we can show you a place or outcome that you will want to go to (more money, achieving a goal, working faster or more efficiently), then the confrontation is not there. You signed up for it! Managers control; Leaders inspire.
Scorecards and Metrics: If the person or team does not know the accepted outcome or behavior, then confrontation and frustration will likely exist. We are a much more diverse society than ever before. Therefore, the unwritten social norms, the culture, and the processes of how to do something must be more defined and visible for all to see and achieve. The use of posted scorecards tells everyone what the score is at any given time. It is an analytical evaluation, not a subjective interpretation. We live in a fast-paced society. We are accustomed to instant results and gratification. We can not wait until the end of the year to see what our boss thinks of us and if we are getting a raise. The more we can define, in individual terms, what success looks like and where the team member stands in relation to that, the more we remove the land mines.
This is a difficult and challenging subject, but one that needs attention if we are to navigate a successful future for ourselves. We know we just touched on the surface of the subject here (maybe because we did not want to start an altercation!), but we will be diving deeper as the year goes on to give you more tips and techniques on how to navigate the minefield. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need more help sooner rather than later!