EDGEx Follow Up – Answering Your Questions from “Managing Difficult Interactions at Work”

The following questions were submitted to Coach Tina Shaw, PCC after the August 8th replay of her presentation, “Managing Difficult Interactions at Work.” Here are her responses:

Does gender affect the way you show up? Are there different cues that are only applicable to a certain gender?

While we may be able to point to generalities in the way men or women tend to show up, exceptions abound. In the presentation I referred to “showing up” as your Presence. How you show up can also be called your “way of being.” It is not what you say or what you do; it’s who you BE. Who we are being impacts everything we do and say. We may think that women are more gentle, compassionate or vulnerable, and that men are more courageous, focused or direct. Can you think of exceptions? I certainly can. What about curious or judgmental? Do these ways of being serve as gender cues? Not in my experience. We have the power to choose our way of being. Most of us have default ways in which we show up based on the context of the situation. If your default way of being is not in service to you or others, you can choose to shift it. All you have to do is notice first, and then be willing to shift to a way of being that will be more effective. It’s simple, but not easy. Working with a coach can help you become more aware and to shift the mindset you are holding that creates the results you want to change.

What are some more common mindsets that younger professionals may possess that create barriers to positive interactions?

Here are some examples of mindsets that can create barriers to positive interactions, and these are not necessarily limited to “younger” professionals.

  • High expectations or “I deserve it” thinking. The most common negative judgment I hear about millennials from managers is that the younger generations expect too much too quickly without putting in the work like they had to in order to get where they are. I am a big fan of ambition, and also of humility. Exercising both together will get you further than either one alone.
  • My needs or wants are more important than yours. They may be more important to you, but the other persons needs and wants are often just as important to them as yours are to you. Realizing this allows you to invite win-win solutions. A scenario where this might apply is when your manager wants you to work overtime to finish a big project, and you want to get away early for a weekend out of town. How might you design an agreement that gets you both what is important to you?
  • Needing to be right. When you anchor into being right, you put the other person in the space of being wrong, and that invites defensiveness and conflict. There are effective ways of communicating one’s point of view that leave room for differing points of view to also be valid. For example, “I see it this way…what do you see?”
  • It’s someone (or something) else’s fault. If you have a habit of pointing to others or situational obstacles as being at fault for less-than-stellar results, you may be playing the victim. Most of us play in this space from time-to-time, but it’s not a good place to hang out. If you look, there is almost always space to take responsibility, and then take authentic action to clean up your own side of the street. A great question to ask when you notice you are in victim thinking is, “What can I be responsible for in this situation?” followed by “What do I want to create going forward?

Is it possible for someone to have negative intention? If so, how would one determine their negative intention and how can it be counteracted?

The idea of “positive intention” is that people are driven to behave in ways that provide them with some sort of payoff, even if the behavior leads to negative results for them or others. It is possible to have a negative intention for someone else that you take action on because you believe it will lead to something good for you. Spreading gossip about a co-worker may seem like harmless fun to you, or you may have intentions of harming the reputation of this person so you are in a better position to get something you want that they could get instead, whether that be a promotion, project assignment or even friendship or admiration from others.

To counteract the behavior, use the feedback model I shared in the webinar to reflect back what you observed, the impact it has/had (on you, others, their reputation), and what request you have of them going forward. You are more likely to get a positive result if you go into the feedback conversation wanting to be helpful to the person, rather than judging them as wrong or having a character flaw. Even if the other person held some level of negative intention (such as to make you look bad), understanding that this behavior is driven by a need for something beneficial for them invites an opening for a different conversation. How might they get that need met without creating negative results for you or others?

The phrase, “assume positive intention” means to assume the other person means no harm, even if the impact was harmful. I recommend adopting this attitude when you have conversations to talk about negative impact because it is more likely to lead to a positive outcome. It’s really hard to have a conversation that doesn’t sound like an accusation if you are holding in your mind that the other person meant to do you harm. And here’s the thing; you cannot know the other person’s intention unless they tell you, and even then you are left the option of believing or not believing them. The risk of assuming negative intentions is very often greater than assuming positive intentions because of the damage it does to relationships.

How do you de-escalate an interaction that is getting too heated when trying to give positive feedback? 

Maybe the answer lies behind the phrase, “trying to give positive feedback.” Perhaps what came out did not land as positive for the person receiving the feedback. If you have ever had a situation where you thought you were giving positive feedback and the reaction you got was defensive, hurt, angry, or something else less than desirable, I invite you to reflect on what you said and what you did not say. What might be the message the person actually heard? Often a difference in styles, values or needs creates this kind of communication breakdown. For example, if you are someone who values excellence and continuous improvement as I do, you may give feedback on an assignment that sounds something like this:

“This is great! I really like this part here, but I think it would be better if we changed this and this to make it clearer/better...”

Depending on the receiver, this person may have heard one of the following:

  • “Your work is never good enough…”
  • "This is wrong…”
  • “Your work is unclear…”
  • “You are not good enough…”

Communication breakdowns can happen when your intended message is received and filtered by the receiver. If you are holding the other person in positive regard while giving what you intend as positive feedback and it doesn’t go well, the other person’s filters may be at play. This would be a good time to get curious (not defensive) and ask the other person what they heard and what meaning they made of what they heard. From there you can clarify your intentions and what you really meant for them to hear.

If you have additional questions or what more clarification on the answers provided, please contact Tina at tina@strengthspartners.com. Thanks Tina for sharing your advice!