Archive for October, 2012

Leader as Counselor – Facilitating the Intervention and Your Dialogue Flow!

Can it get any more uncomfortable than this? Probably at the top of any managerial-leader’s list of uncomfortable and disliked functions is that of facilitating a counseling or disciplinarian intervention session with a problem player.

An effective organization can be terrorized by a problematic employee, productive employees can leave, turnover can become systemic and implosions can occur daily if not addressed. An effective leader must recognize these disruptions as opportunities to provide subtle – or not so subtle – behavior course corrections to an individual and bring them back into being a contributor instead of a detractor.

To facilitate the actual session, mentally design the intervention into three stages: Opening Dialogue, Body Dialogue and Closing Dialogue. While you may have rehearsed in your head a dozen times your opening statement, and perhaps even the body context, putting all three together is what few managers do, causing counseling interventions to become long-winded diatribes.

  1. Opening Dialogue should start with a power statement such as, “We are here because of the choices you have made…” Immediately establish the fact-based reason for this intervention, and calmly communicate the ground rules for this engagement, as well as are and are not acceptable discussion points and behaviors. Qualify the pain factor or leverage that you have at your disposal to ensure the purpose of the meeting is taken seriously. Ensure that they know they have been appreciated, or they never would have been employed on that team. Let them know that, from that perspective, you ultimately value them on the team and wish for this meeting agenda to be amicably resolved. This should be a very concise, controlled and even rehearsed set-up sentence…don’t belabor the point in your opening!
  1. Body Dialogue allows you to expand on the issue – and only that issue – at hand. This is where you develop the subject matter, share precisely what the behavior(s) is that will no longer be accepted, associate the why factor to the behavior and either design the action-implementation plan or accept their resignation.

If you can design a document that details the specific problem behavior, and they sign it, it can serve as a “Letter of Resignation” should the problem persist. Far too often, due to gutless leadership, legal protection is afforded to problem players, who just float from one organization (or department) to another, terrorizing everyone. They are then further financially compensated when terminated via tax payer-funded unemployment services or litigation. Therefore, behavioral change can be stimulated if the pain factor is powerful enough! 

  1. Closing Dialogue is just as important as the Opening and Body. Just as you may have spent days rehearsing the other two stages, so too should you invest mental time crafting a non-combative, supportive closing statement that you can conversationally present as a transition from what will most likely be an uncomfortable dialogue to the next obvious aspect of your day. Consider how you will conversationally exit the Body and, for that matter, the environment in which you are conducting your session. This will help prevent a fight or flight situation and avoid causing passive-aggressive behaviors by the problem player afterward. Your aim is to turn the problematic player into a productive player once again!

As the leader of a team of individuals, your ultimate goal is to draw out and showcase the strengths and skills of each person in pursuit of growing your organization.

-Dr Jeff Magee
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Leader as Counselor – Preparing for Your Intervention!

Just as a child does with a baby-sitter, employees (with their colleagues and managers) attempt to learn the behaviors they can get away with and/or demonstrate.

There will be times when a problematic player will come across your path. As a leader, it is your responsibility to step up to the plate and address them. Remember the management adage, “Out of sight, out of mind” and any astute leader knows that it does not right itself on its own!

If you have a problem player on your team, and no other management intervention styles have produced meaningful results, you have no alternative but to engage them. This managerial-leadership intervention style is known as the “Counselor” or “Disciplinarian” approach. To ignore the problem will never result in a changed positive behavior and will only serve to create similar negative behaviors from others on your team, becoming cancerous to the future of your organization.

Preparing for a counseling session with a problem player can be best addressed by breaking the process down into three distinct phases: Before the Session, During the Session, and After the Session. Consider:

  1. Before the Session: Start with an agenda so you will remain focused on what to address and, subsequently, what is off limits. Before investing any further time, determine if this agenda is best addressed by other’s within your organization (i.e. Human Resources, Legal, Union stewardship, etc.) before you proceed. If these stop-gaps are not appropriate, then proceed by gathering the necessary documentation to allow you to start face-to-face conversations with statements like, “I have observed,” rather than, “It has been brought to my attention.” If someone has brought a concern about another individual to you, ask him or her to write it down and sign it. Do not push for this to be done because it will allow you to see if there is, in fact, a problem or rather a personality conflict among individuals into which one is attempting to pull you. Consider the best time for this intervention by reviewing the agenda and determining how much time is appropriate. Hold the meeting in a location where the most meaningful interaction can take place with the least amount of interruptions and noise. Consider the appropriateness of an observer by taking into account the sensitivity of the subject matter, the personality involved and whether or not the other party will have an observer or representation in this meeting (a possible norm, for example, if you manage within a union or government environment). If you decide an observer is appropriate, have one of your peer levels or higher serve at your disposal in this situation. Their only role is to be an observer, take notes and support you…they should not dialogue or become verbally involved to the point that the other party recruits them to their cause! Also, pre-design solutions to this situation that has warranted you wearing the counselor hat of leadership.

  1. During the Session: Start by providing the problem player with a copy of the agenda you designed for the session (unless otherwise required, never provide the problem player with the agenda in advance!). During the session, express that while there are problems with specific behaviors, you are not attacking them directly; your desire is to solve this issue and move forward. Take aggressive notes during the session, writing down anything they say (if they are not very communicative or they grunt and moan a lot, write that down too). Work to get both mini and many agreements to the agenda points. Be sure to let them know the gravity of the agenda and draw upon the leverage you have to stimulate a change in the behavior – this is not the time to worry about how to win friends and influence people, it is about the levels of pain that can be inflicted upon them if they don’t immediately change! Work for an action-resolution plan that can be implemented. Establish follow-up timelines where you two “WILL” get back together to ensure measurable forward momentum is taking place. This follow-up time schedule will serve as an additional motivator for both of you to ensure that no one leaves, makes minor adjustments and eventually digresses back to the same old problematic, cancerous behaviors.

  1. After the Session: You will want to set aside time immediately after the session to ensure that the items on your agenda were actually addressed, and you did not become sidetracked during the session. Along with any other official paperwork that you may have to complete in your organization, take a clean copy of the initial agenda and send a follow-up note recapping your appreciation for the meeting and what was agreed upon and offering your continued support to the action plan; this after-action review packet will serve as a reinforcement to them. Afterward, take a copy of that letter, the agenda and any notes taken during the session (along with any other forms) and staple them together for your personal files.

Review the precise value the player in question brings to your team, what acts they perform and what unique skills they posses. Can you survive without them? If not, delay (not avoid) the session until you have a contingency plan and/or backup players capable of fulfilling what the problem player is supposed to be doing in case the player decides to quit.

Never beg a problem player to stay, for the moment you do, they own you and the organization!

As a leader become very confident that the over whelming court ruling are in your favor if you must terminate a poor performer and problem employee (SUPERVISORS LEGAL UPDATES newsletter, July 23, 2003 edition). If you have documentation of the problem and attempts to civilly interact with them to address the issues, don’t be threatened by impending litigation or threats of litigation by your problem player!

As a leader, how you handle the behavior of any single poor performer will be observed by all and serve as a headline for actions out of others in the future.

-Dr Jeff Magee
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Tactical Daily Administration – Primetime Productivity!

In a business climate of increased performance and profitability expectations with every endeavor, today’s managerial leader must be tactically nimble and effective in everything that is done.

Among the work requirements of every position is daily normalcy. It is these functional norms that require a leader to be tactically wise. Consider whether or not you allocate your energies (and conversely, those of your team) appropriately throughout the day and appropriately to functional tasks. Are you and your team active or productive?

Here are three simple, yet, from a time and motion study standpoint, explosive ideas in tactically allocating your energies daily for maximum productivity (and thus, profitability):

  1. Are you an AM or PM person? Meaning, do you have your normal highest professional energies during the window of the AM hours of your day or the window of the PM hours?

  1. Now, define that window. If you are an AM person and you start at 7:00 AM, the window would be from 7:00 AM to noon. Conversely, if you say you are a PM person, the window would be from noon until when?

  1. Primetime for your peak productivity will fall within this window. To get even more strategic and learn which tactic to engage at the appropriate time, determine which limited hours you are really at peak performance during your window.

By breaking down the work hours into this AM versus PM pattern, you can be more tactical in your behaviors. And continuing breaking down your time into a window range and breaking that down even further will aid you in knowing your greatest productivity comes from:

  1. Scheduling high-yield activities, projects and meetings in your primetimes.

  2. Not scheduling anything during this time that is a time-waster, low-impact task, nonessential event, etc.

As a steward of your time, determine right now when your prime time occurs.

Then, review what you are doing right now. Check your calendar, to-do lists and PALM systems and determine if you can enhance your performance by making some tactical adjustments to your schedule and those of your colleagues.

-Dr Jeff Magee
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Diffusing Defensiveness – Healing Emotional Wounds!

As a tactical leader, a true sign of interactive greatness comes from the aftermath of engaging or referring defensive behaviors. Reflecting upon how individuals internalize the involved issues and personalities at the height of their defensive behavior will weigh greatly on the outcome, how they perceive others in the future and others’ perception of them in the future.

To understand the emotional charge that a defensive situation raises, understand that the workplace brain serves two purposes. While the conscious brain serves as the “processing” center for rationalization and new learning, it is the subconscious brain that serves as both the “memory” and “emotional” centers. When diffusing defensive behavior, it is important to remember the conscious brain is about 17 percent of the brain’s capacity, and the subconscious brain is the remainder.

Thus, the subconscious brain is the bully that, in many instances, overrides the conscious brain. Recall past hostile or defensive situations. You will notice people (as it is never seems to be us in the situation…) saying and doing things that inflame a situation. It takes a lot of focused, committed, conscious brain energy to override the sometimes defensive and destructive subconscious brain!

As a leader, recognize that defensive behavior may arise when a person feels professionally:

  1. Threatened
  2. Alienated
  3. Denigrated
  4. Belittled publicly (meeting dialogues, memos, eCommunications, one-on-ones, etc.)
  5. Unappreciated
  6. Left out of a perceived loop
  7. Used

These intrusions can create scars that may heal quickly with some individuals, but can also create long festering wounds that reveal themselves in future defensive behavior eruptions. These scars reside in that subconscious brain!

As a leader, you will want to tactically engage – in a non-threatening manner when possible – an individual exhibiting defensive behaviors. Consider:

  1. Start with an empathy action or statement, revealing you acknowledge their position.
  2. Do not take an immediate position of agreement or disagreement with the other person – that is what they will be expecting.
  3. Invite them to share plural solutions to the problem that has brought about their defensiveness. Plurality is a powerful tool, as it allows you to engage all parties in civil dialogue. If you solicit for a singular idea, you may merely elevate the level of challenge, and increased defensiveness may (perhaps on your behalf) as a result.
  4. Establish either privately or jointly a follow-up plan to demonstrate you are committed to resolving what raised the defensive behavior in the first place. Continue to ensure the emotional wound heals and the person in question does not digress or attempt to tie in future unrelated issues to this issue.
  5. Make sure you continually avail yourself to them and keep a conscious ear to what is happening in the workplace. This will ensure others don’t antagonize the wound you are attempting to heal.

Healing emotional wounds and ensuring defensive behaviors do not erode an otherwise effective organization is crucial in today’s fast-paced and highly competitive workplace, where people’s emotions are at wit’s end. Your ability to subtly engage individuals when they are defensive to others, allow them to save face and move onward to greater productivity and profitability outcomes is a trait of tactical leadership

-Dr Jeff Magee
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Diffusing Defensiveness – Preventing Power Struggles for Oneness!

It’s all about egos, competitiveness, saving face, and not being seen as the one having to make a concession that leads to a need to win at any cost!

Many times it is this cost of power struggles that, in the final accounting, leads to significant loss of true gains and wins for the greater whole because individuals get caught up in the minutia of petty struggles. And from there, a pattern develops whereby struggles become the norm. Many studies indicate that men experience these struggles due to a need to be above others in a position of power and influence. For women, these struggles are often caused by the need to be the center of influence and acceptance.

Individuals must rise above the need for power struggles and finesse energies and individuals together for a sense of “oneness” that will allow true greatness to be attained and experienced by all!

For leadership success in the home and workplace, here are ten ways to create “oneness” in the face of a “power struggle”:

  1. Enlarge the final solution to incorporate aspects from all players’ desires, versus an either/or option (you versus me’ism).
  2. Invite plurality of suggestions, versus a this-or-that mentality. From these multiple ideas before implementation, one can gain better perspectives and better final resolutions.
  3. Avoid the first person language (I, you, think, but, however) that tends to inflame interactions and induce additional defensive postures among individuals.
  4. Increase the use of inclusion language (we, us, team, feel, other ideas) that brings people together and makes it more difficult for an individual to create a divisive climate.
  5. Share credit and glory liberally. While in the presence of others and success, make sure the credit and rewards are publicly experienced by all appropriate individuals.
  6. Document heavily when you know you are in the presence of those that tend toward power struggles. For example, in the initial stages of a project launch, send an e-mail, letter, voicemail message, etc.) to all participants about the agreed- upon action plan.  Note who specifically owns each piece of that project and send corresponding copies to supervisors and any other influencers that can encourage “oneness” actions.
  7. Disengage and walk away gracefully if you determine your participation, input, or opinion will not have a “significant” influence on the outcome. Many power struggles grow out of individual’s desire for their action plan to be “the” action plan.
  8. Involve a valued and respected elder as the leader of an issue that may lean toward defensive behavior. Let him or her either lead or council you as to exact action plans – and listen!
  9. Break down decision-making responsibility among multiple individuals to avoid any one individual becoming too important or developing an over-inflated view of their net worth to the overall “oneness” of the team.
  10. Limit volatile individuals’ exposure to issues and other individuals that ignite defensive behaviors.

The ability to tactically engage others in the face of impending power implosions and redirect potential negative and destructive energies toward a greater positive outcome is the mark of a true leader in today’s workplace.

These intrusions can create scars that may heal quickly with some individuals, but can also create long festering wounds that reveal themselves in future defensive behavior eruptions. These scars reside in that subconscious brain!

As a leader, you will want to tactically engage – in a non-threatening manner when possible – an individual exhibiting defensive behaviors. Consider:

  1. Start with an empathy action or statement, revealing you acknowledge their position.
  2. Do not take an immediate position of agreement or disagreement with the other person – that is what they will be expecting.
  3. Invite them to share plural solutions to the problem that has brought about their defensiveness. Plurality is a powerful tool, as it allows you to engage all parties in civil dialogue. If you solicit for a singular idea, you may merely elevate the level of challenge, and increased defensiveness may (perhaps on your behalf) as a result.
  4. Establish either privately or jointly a follow-up plan to demonstrate you are committed to resolving what raised the defensive behavior in the first place. Continue to ensure the emotional wound heals and the person in question does not digress or attempt to tie in future unrelated issues to this issue.
  5. Make sure you continually avail yourself to them and keep a conscious ear to what is happening in the workplace. This will ensure others don’t antagonize the wound you are attempting to heal.

Healing emotional wounds and ensuring defensive behaviors do not erode an otherwise effective organization is crucial in today’s fast-paced and highly competitive workplace, where people’s emotions are at wit’s end. Your ability to subtly engage individuals when they are defensive to others, allow them to save face and move onward to greater productivity and profitability outcomes is a trait of tactical leadership.

-Dr Jeff Magee
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Diffusing Defensiveness – Converting Caustic Communication Exchanges into Casual Conversation!

The ability to transition caustic communication exchanges into fluid, non-threatening conversations may seem like an art form to many, but actually it is more of a science. And with science, there are truths, steps and processes that can be learned, followed and replicated for lasting success as a leader today.

Many times what one perceives as caustic are not really the words, but rather how those words are shaped and sent. Whether in your visual exchanges, verbal communications or kinesthetic, hands-on interactions, you can diffuse potentially or blatantly caustic exchanges into healthy, casual conversation by doing the following:

  1. Challenge Words – You will want to eliminate or significantly reduce the volume of challenge words you use. These are any words that imply you are pointing at the other party and thereby challenging them…this only causes the other party to become defensive. Some examples: however; but; and; you; think; opinion.
  1. Ownership Words – You can diffuse caustic behaviors and even avoid the appearance of being combative by using words that imply you are pointing at yourself. It is more difficult to get into trouble if you are pointing at or hitting yourself as opposed to pointing at, singling out or hitting another person with your communication exchanges. Some examples: we; us; team; feel.
  1. Decode the Communication Signal – Studies indicate that communication exchanges with another person consist of three distinct pieces. It is within these pieces that one can determine where the caustic force is.  Once isolated, one can direct the conversation toward success and away from stress. Your brain will interpret the most information from the non-verbal components (the “WHY Factor”) and the least from the actual words or message (the “WHAT Factor”). The middle percentage of information you will receive will come from the para-language (the “HOW Factors”).

The para-language aspect (one’s tone, pitch, pace, volume, accent, etc.) shapes how a message is perceived. In most communication exchanges, caustic interpretations come more from “HOW” a message is crafted and sent than what is actually said.

  1. Reframe – When a message irritates you and evolves toward caustic communication, evaluate the “WHAT,” “WHY” and “HOW” components of the communication you have just read or heard. Don’t overreact merely to the para-language aspect of the communication exchange.
  1. Never Respond Immediately – When you find yourself engaged in caustic communication exchanges, refrain from responding immediately. Instead, determine the best way to craft your response to the other person. This pregnant pause may cause the other party to realize how out of control they are, and this may stimulate either an apology or a calming effect from the other party.
  1. Eliminate Caustic E-mail Language – In addition to avoiding “Challenge Words” in an e-mail, eliminate caustic communication blunders as well. These include bold face type, all capitals, italicized type, underlining, highlighting in red ink, etc. These variables are para-language in a written format and can be perceived as caustic communication.
  1. Visualize A Mental Teeter-Totter – While engaging a person in a situation containing caustic communication, visualize their forehead with a teeter-totter on it. As you look at them, observe a plank atop the teeter-totter. On one side is a plus sign, which represents everything you know about them that would direct their attention in a favorable manner; on the other side of the beam, visualize a negative sign. Obviously, if they are communicating in a caustic manner, you can visualize which way their beam is leaning and avoid doing anything that would further weigh them, and thus the conversation, in a negative manner.

You will want to diffuse them by working first to neutralize that beam and continuing your communication intervention in a constructive, non-caustic direction. This will, in many instances, serve to recondition the other party, and they will begin to model your communication behavior.

This tactical approach can serve you well, change how others perceive you and change how others interact with one another. As a tactical leader, these are the varying engagement styles you will want to emulate for greater personal and professional effectiveness on a daily basis.

-Dr Jeff Magee
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Diffusing Defensiveness – Building Better Behaviors!

As a tactical leader, the ability to diffuse escalating tension, anger, conflicts and defensive behaviors that result in lost performance is critical. Whether through a peer or leadership position, diffusing defensive behavior can serve to create a significantly healthier workplace.

While most individuals have evolved into a norm of defending their ideas, positions and needs, it also has become an acceptable practice to challenge these when one disagrees. To diffuse possible escalation in emotions and counter-productive behaviors, consider low impact, high yield tactics:

  1. Restating – Take the sentence that has been challenged – or personalized by the other party as a challenge – and restate it, while remaining entirely “issue/subject” centered. Example: “What I am hearing is that (insert subject) is a concern for us. Should we discuss that?”
  1. Reframe With Ownership Language – Use words that appear less challenging and don’t appear to be singling out or pointing at the other person. Use words that invite the other party into a participatory dialogue: we, us, team. 
  1. Avoid Challenge Language – The unfortunate tendency in decaying behaviors is the use of challenge words and phrases. These would be the words used in visual, auditory and kinesthetic interactions that infer one person is better than another. They frequently come across as a direct attack. Words like “however,” “you,” “but” and “seem to” turn up the pressure to defensive behaviors (a great source on these ideas is Taking the War Out of Our Words: The Art of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication by Sharon Ellison, ISBN #0-9720021-0-3 / US $15.95, Bay Tree Publishing, 721 Creston Road, Berkeley, CA, 94708).
  1. Remain Behavior-Focused – In responding to the other person, ensure that all your words, gestures and phrasings remain focused on the “behavior” that is at hand and not the actual person. Example: “I’m not challenging you nor making a statement about you in terms of good or bad. Rather, I think we should address the choice that was made…” Another example could be, “I’m not saying you are right nor wrong, good nor bad; we are hear to address the comments that are being made, which are counter productive to our purpose …”
  1. Model – Make sure you look in that imaginary mirror of life and continually ask yourself, “What does my behavior project to my team, colleagues and customers?” People do tend to model the behaviors of not just others, but the behaviors they see the most and those that are most frequently rewarded!
  1. Gambit – As a strategic maneuver to position yourself for a greater gain, you may need to either sacrifice a little to get a lot for the greater benefit of the team or buy time for a calming affect, allowing emotions and defensive behaviors to settle down. You may deploy a move such as, “Excuse me for a minute while I go to the bathroom.” Of course, you may not need to actually go to the bathroom, but this break will allow you – and perhaps the other party – an unplanned opportunity to calm down, become less personality-focused and become more issue-focused!

Other sources of gambits could be time, other subjects, other people and places.

  1. Association – Encircle a potentially problem player with only proactive, constructive, optimistic individuals. This overwhelming force will serve either as a soothing behavior adjuster or a motivation for them to leave you, which may be something you actually desire!
  1. Get Out of the Presenter’s Box – I have presented this explosive behavior- diffusing technique before. The space you occupy when presenting an idea is the imaginary “presenter’s box.” The moment someone challenges you, the tendency is to defend your turf, which only escalates defensive, non-productive behaviors. The next time someone challenges your idea, use this technique: calmly step to the side (out of the box), and when the challenger is finished, politely respond by saying, “If this idea is not an ideal way to proceed, let’s explore some other options. What do you feel is an effective way to address this?”
  1. Plurality of Ideas – When finding yourself at odds with another person, transition the dialogue away from both of your present defensive items and inquire about other ideas. Example: “Aside from the subjects in which we disagree, what are some other ways we could address this issue?”
  1. Empathize – Offer an empathy-based preface to your logic-based response. An empathy statement conveys to the other party that you respectfully hear them. You are not agreeing nor disagreeing with them, but merely acknowledging their stance. Research finds that sometimes a person’s behavior and the escalation in their behavior is a learned response or tactic to gain leverage or recognition with others. By you immediately acknowledging the other person, this may many times serve as a diffusing approach.
  1. Defer to Another Authority – Sometimes, no matter what your approach, you and the other person are not going to interact effectively. To reduce and occasionally eliminate defensive behaviors, consider if the need for the interaction (subject matter) is greater than the need for you being the engager. If the answer is yes, change the players. Become the leader that is resident within you and have someone else be the facilitator for the sake of performance success.

As a tactical leader, the ability to diffuse escalating tension, anger, conflicts and defensive behaviors will result in increased performance and profitability in your business unit. Residual benefits of diffusing defensive behaviors in your organization will also be seen in the quality of life and a greater sense of balance that everyone experiences.

-Dr Jeff Magee
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