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A Leadership Secret: Appreciating The Difficult People
For decades, every summer, in greeting his scholarship players, Alabama coaching legend Paul “Bear” Bryant asked, “Did you call your parents to thank them? No one has ever reached this level of excellence in football without the help of others. “
Bryant not only appreciated the importance of other people in the development of a young athlete; he wanted athletes to appreciate it as well. Such appreciation is also a lesson in leadership. No one becomes a successful leader unless others want you to be; you need help; and part of your growth as a leader is to recognize and show gratitude for that help.
But you’ll give your leadership, and ultimately your career, a real boost by expressing your gratitude not only to the people you love and who are on your side, but also to the people you may not like: the difficult people in your life, those people who for the right reasons or cause grief for the wrong reasons.
One of the most effective ways to deal with them is to appreciate them. I think I really appreciate them. When you do, you may find that you deal with them in surprisingly productive ways.
The word “appreciation” comes from a Latin root meaning “to realize the value”. In other words, your appreciation of difficult people must be centered on your true understanding of the value they offer to you and your organization.
You just don’t understand their point of view. You actually appreciate it; and you use that gratitude as a tool to achieve more results, more results than if difficult people had not entered your life. Otherwise, your consideration, at least as far as leadership is concerned, is a waste of time.
Here’s a four-step process for making gratitude a results generator.
(1) Team up. To get recognition, know that you and the difficult person must be a team in its development. Remember, you’re not trying to get a difficult person to appreciate you. You have little control over the appreciation of others. You are, however, in control of yours. So focus on cultivating yours. That cultivation only happens in a relationship — a team relationship with another person, not necessarily a personal relationship. In a team relationship, you don’t have to love the other person. You simply have to work with them – actively and wholeheartedly, regardless of personal feelings. And your team’s goal is to create a leadership process that gets results out of the difficulties you have with each other.
(2) Identify. When you are dealing with a difficult person, you are often involved in strong emotions. The first thing you should do is, with the help of that person in a face-to-face meeting, get to the exact causes of the difficulties. Try to remove yourself from your emotional entanglements. “Break down” what’s going on the way football coaches break down opposing teams’ plays studying game film. This breaking up is a joint process and should go like this: First, have the person describe the exact times you had problems with each other. It’s important to stay focused simply on the physical facts of those moments. What were the specific actions and words that triggered the emotions? When the person gives their side of the story, then and only then can you give yours. Only when you are both clear about those moments and agree on what happened can you begin to talk to each other about your feelings about those moments of physical action.
For example, the person may claim that you are not listening to what he/she is saying. Have the person describe an exact time when you didn’t listen. Where have you been? What was the talk? Exactly, what made such an impression on that person?
(3) I agree. You and the person need to agree on what is important about the difficulty you are having. The gap between what you think is important and what the other person thinks must be closed. The closing test is the results. Do the difficulties you have with the person go to the very heart of the results you need to achieve?
The person says you are not listening. Do you agree? Does that person’s perception matter? Until you agree on whether or not you have been listening and how important it is, you will continue to have difficulties. Which means you won’t be able to move on to the next and most important step.
(4) Transformation. Turn the specific into a process of results, a process that will bring you increased results. Without such a process, the previous steps are useless. For example, let’s say you both agree that you need to be more attentive when that person is speaking. Next, you might develop a “listening process.” Such a process may include the application of a “continuator”. This is a process taught in medical schools to help overbearing doctors be more empathetic towards their patients. When communicating with patients, doctors are taught to say “uh” three times when the other person is speaking before saying a word.
Of course, “continuators” are one of the many listening processes you can rely on. And clearly, “not listening” is one of the many problems you can have with the people you lead. No matter what process you encounter in any human difficulty, that process must achieve specific increases in results – more results than if you had not used the process.
Regarding the “not listening” example: You can pick one thing out of what was said that could lead to an increase in your score. I worked with a leader who did this. Several of the people he led accused him of ignoring them, so those people opposed his leadership. Everyone sat around the conference table and went through this four-step process. They developed a process to actively and systematically listen to each other and agree on what was said and what was heard. They then selected specific details that emerged from their communication. They have made an effort to monitor the implementation of these details in order to achieve an increase in solid, measurable results.
Like the poor, the people who make it difficult for us will always be with us. No matter how experienced and successful you are as a leader, difficult people will always be lined up outside your door, wanting to enter your life. Moreover, there are probably many at the door too, trying to cut you down, thwart your plans, tarnish your reputation.
Instead of confronting them or avoiding them, try to appreciate them. When you use this process, you may find that they are not liabilities but assets.
2006 © The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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