LEADING IN UNCERTAINTY: HOW TO INFLUENCE ‘CHALLENGING’ PEOPLE
If you’re like the leaders I’ve spoken to in the past week, you’ve likely made peace with your current situation and are getting on with it as best you can. The challenge you may now be facing, is how to deal with those around you who are behaving less constructively. It may be a client who is making unreasonable demands, a colleague who is taking nonsensical actions, or a family member who is perpetually worried and anxious. If you would like to positively influence these situations, then the tactics in this blog can help you.
Check your expectations
A crisis is a bit like alcohol; it makes you more of who you already are. People with anxious tendencies have become more anxious, those with purposeful inclinations have become more purposeful, those who tend toward control have become more controlling, action-oriented people are firing off in all directions, and so on. Whatever the default behaviours were before COVID-19, they’re probably on steroids right now.
If you are surprised that a narcissistic politician ignores data and human suffering, whilst boasting about approval ratings, then it’s your expectations surprising you, not the politician. It doesn’t make it right or helpful; it just makes it predictable. My bet is that if you really think about it, most of the behaviours you are experiencing right now – good and bad – are equally predictable. Ask yourself, “given what I know about this person, how are they likely to behave in the face of extreme pressure, worry and uncertainty?”
When you start from this place, you no longer have to live in a perpetual state of surprise, anger and frustration. You accept what is. You may not like it, but you don’t waste precious time and emotional energy on expectations that will disappoint you. You can save that energy for something more constructive.
We all do the best we can with what we know. No matter how senior the leader, no matter how big the title, each has their own fears, worries and problems. Being offended by their actions, or getting caught up in their emotional dramas, only serves to exacerbate the situation. Even when you are the target of their dissatisfaction, there’s usually a whole lot more going on under the surface.
The antidote is simple but definitely not easy. Be empathetic, starting in your own head. Think about what might be going on in their life for them to behave this way. See their actions as a cry for help. Then, make your first words a clear expression of your empathy. For example; “I can’t imagine the pressure you’re under right now, but I’d love to help.” Or “you seem frustrated/ worried/ passionate about this issue; would you like to try and find a solution together?”
This small pivot can have a profound impact. In the first instance, you will calm your own fears and worries. More importantly, you will build a foundation for connection and contribution. When others feel your empathy, they’re far more likely to open up to you, admit their missteps and to seek your counsel.
Be in service, but not subservience
Service is a noble pursuit, perhaps the most noble. But we should never confuse service with subservience. When we find ourselves in a challenging situation, especially with someone like a boss or client, the temptation is to play it safe, avoid the real conversation, or become an order taker. This is a path to irrelevance. We have to be prepared to lean into the discomfort; to give others what they need, not necessarily what they say they want.
Be sure your motives are pure. Anything that feels even slightly manipulative or self-serving will likely backfire. Think of the other person as a dear friend, and the situation as one of great significance. Ask yourself, “If I really cared about this person and this situation, how could I best help them right now? What do they really need to know? How could I influence this situation for the better?” Then, frame your thoughts in their best interests; for example, “The easy thing would be for me to avoid this situation, but I’m concerned for you. Would you be open to a different approach; one with less risk and more upside?”
Finally, detach from the outcome. The only way to truly embrace this approach is to believe that you are doing the right thing and accept that you have no control over the consequences. More often than not, it will go in your favour, but not always. Make peace with this and do it anyway.
I hope these three tactics will help you to positively influence even the most challenging of people and situations that surround you right now.
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