How to deal with personality ‘issues’

The other day, a friend rang wanting to chat through an ‘issue’ she has with one of her team members. ‘I try not to let it’, she said, ‘but her constant, slow shuffle to the cafe bar gets on my nerves. She doesn’t have much to say for herself, either, and I’m the sort of team leader who likes to chat things through. Maybe it’s a generation thing; she’s a bit older than me and I’ve read that older workers aren’t as ‘teamy’ and ‘chatty’ as people my age. She’s hard to manage; it’s a personality thing, I guess.’
So I asked what her work quality was like and it seems it’s fine. She meets all her targets and the others in the team seem to like and respect her. In fact, they often go to her for advice and help when they need it.
That answer brought me to my next question: How would – let’s call her ‘Jane’ – describe this behaviour of hers, the trips to the cafe bar and her quietness? That’s always a good question to ask because it’s unlikely people describe their behaviour in the same way you do, and the answer always puts another slant on the issue.
And the third question: Is the issue worth making a song and dance over? My friend decided it wasn’t.
In summary, here are the first three questions to ask yourself when someone irritates you:
1. How is their work?
2. How would they describe their behaviour?
3. Is it worth addressing?
And when you’re ready, here’s the fourth question:
4. Is this annoying behaviour telling you something about yourself?
This question helps you look into your mental mirror. What we ‘see’ in others (or think we see) is often a reflection of ourselves. As someone once told me, when you ‘point the finger’ at someone, there’s another three fingers pointing back at you. Psychologists call this projection. We do it whenever we attach a characteristic to another person that really belongs to us.
These might be qualities we don’t want to own up to, negative things, like ‘He’s selfish’, or ‘She’s inconsiderate’. Rather than acknowledge we are like this ourselves, it’s easier on the ego to point the finger at someone else.
(We can project our own positive qualities onto other people too. Perhaps we don’t want to boast about them or more likely, we don’t even realise we have them. So we shift them over to someone else.)
Well, my friend drinks tea, not coffee, and likes to chat, so no, ‘Jane’ wasn’t reminding her of something about herself she didn’t like. Ah, but come to think about it …
Long story short, ‘Jane’ reminded my friend about someone in her past that she didn’t like at all, a ‘horrible’ aunt who was really mean to her when she was a child. That was what was causing the ‘issue’. My friend was sorely tempted to deal with ‘Jane’ the way she would have liked to have dealt with her nasty aunt. Once my friend realised that, the ‘issue’ evaporated.
The next time you seem to have a personality clash of some sort, think about whether your description of the other person says more about yourself or someone else in your life, than it says about them.
These are four powerful questions to work through when one of your team members or a colleague annoys you and you need to decide whether the ‘issue’ is worth addressing.

Give people ‘the finger’

We all like to think we’re in charge of our own behaviour but that isn’t always the case. The reason is – our brain. Our brain is filled with specialised circuits that do all sorts of things for us. Some of those circuits are called ‘mirror circuits’. The job of mirror circuits is called ‘interpersonal limbic regulation’ and they prompt us to respond to other people’s emotions and behaviour in kind. These mirror circuits are located in the limbic cortex, our ‘Caveman Brain’.

Some mirror circuits give us empathy for others – we see someone looking sad and our mirror circuits fire off sadness, so we sort of know how they feel. Or we see someone laughing and happy and we smile and feel happy, too.

Our mirror circuits fire off when someone treats us kindly, too. We want to return that kindness. That’s why being nice spreads around to others, like dropping a little pebble in a puddle – the ripples spread.

And here’s the rub. Our mirror circuits fire off when someone is rude, too. Here’s an example. I don’t know about the drivers where you live but I do know about the drivers in Adelaide. Lots of them are pretty rude. For instance, when you pull over to let someone through on a narrow street or in a car park, 49 out of 50 of them don’t lift a finger to say ‘Thank you’.

On Kangaroo Island, on the other hand, every driver lifts a finger to say ‘Hello’ to everyone they pass, never mind to say ‘Thank you’. So when you drive around Kangaroo Island, it only takes a couple of cars going by and lifting the ‘Hello’ finger before you’re lifting the ‘Hello’ finger too. Mirror circuits. People are friendly and you want to be friendly back.

And in Adelaide, when you’ve pulled over to let another driver through and you don’t get the finger-lift ‘Thank you’, the temptation is after one or two times, not to do the finger-lift ‘Thank you’ to the next driver who pulls over for you. That’s the temptation, thanks to those mirror circuits in our Caveman Brain.

Now of course, you know what’s coming, don’t you. Sometimes, we need to over-ride those mirror circuits so that other people don’t dictate our behaviour when that behaviour is rude or anti-social in some other way. We want to use our ‘Thinking Brain’ to tell our ‘Caveman Brain’ to pull its head in, so to speak. That way, we can be pleasant and polite even when someone else isn’t.

And to my mind, that makes for a better place to live, to shop, to drive and to work. Because giving people ‘the finger’ is catching. So give people the ‘Thank you’ finger and the ‘Hello’ finger every chance you have. Niceness is catching and we all want to live and work in a nice place.

Tips for new leaders Part I

From the moment you take up a leadership role, people are watching you. You are leading by example and the only question is: Is it the example you want to set?

As a leader-manager, you’re no longer a ‘me’ working on getting great results as an individual performer (even though that might be what earned you the promotion). Your job is now ‘we’ – getting great results from others by harnessing the power of collective effort. It isn’t your job to impress your new team. Your job is to get to know them and find out how you can help them do their jobs well.

Build a culture that strives for high productivity and quality and one that is enjoyable and personally rewarding for your team members to work in. You’re only as good as your followers’ performance, individually and as a team, so set high standards and insist on peoples’ best efforts. No one will thank you for mediocrity. That doesn’t mean micromanaging, but finding out what people need, procuring it for them, and standing back while they get on with it, ready to help when they need it.

Australians don’t like a ‘task master’ boss, one who is autocratic, results-driven and provides little feedback. People whinge and ultimately do the bare minimum and ‘the numbers’ crash. Concentrate on your team and helping them hit ‘the numbers’, not on bossing people around.

Good leadership, for Australians, is based on quality relationships and we’re either ‘full on’ or ‘full off’ in terms of engagement and motivation. This means that the little things really count, like saying ‘G’day’ and using a person’s name. Open communication, without compromising confidentiality, is seen as a sign of trust and inclusion. In contrast, ‘mushroom management’ – keeping people in the dark – is definitely not appreciated. Make sure you include all team members when you share information, too, not just a favoured few.

Stay visible and talk – and listen – to people face-to-face. Don’t retreat behind your desk and fire off emails and don’t pretend you have all the answers. Spend time building relationships with your team and across the organisation.  Jot down a few notes to make sure your memory isn’t selective and stay alert for feedback, especially the non-verbal kind that can tell you what team members and colleagues really think of you. Keep your problems – work and personal – to yourself.

Most employees today aren’t too fazed by your place in the hierarchy but they’ll work for you as best they can when they respect you for your personal qualities, know what you stand for and know they can rely on you to ‘do the right thing’. But you need to prove yourself first and earn peoples’ trust and respect by demonstrating your character first and later, your competence.

Australians want positive feedback and recognition, but give it sincerely and keep it low-key. (‘Employee of the month’ schemes may work in the US but tend to flop in Australia.) We also respond best to clear and precise operating guidelines and are powerfully motivated by a clear vision and purpose. So get good at communicating and communicate them often (through different mediums and in different ways to avoid sounding like a galah). And tell the truth – Australians have finely tuned ‘bullshit detectors’.

When the results are good, step back and let your team share the glory. Remember, though, that the buck stops with you and you may occasionally need to take the blame for team mistakes.

Your role is probably more than helping your team succeed. It’s probably also helping your organisation succeed by innovating improvements that help your team work more smoothly, easily, economically, quickly, reliably, safely and sustainably.

Leadership is a big undertaking. It’s a huge responsibility as well as a privilege. Stay tuned for more tips next week.

Paint the picture

‘I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.’ (John Kennedy)

‘A computer on every desk in every home.’ (Bill Gates)

Every leader-manager, at every level, needs a clear vision, a picture of how we are when we’re doing our best work. You can’t avoid it if you want to engage your team.

Vision literally means ‘seeing’ and the best visions help people ‘see’ the ultimate results of their efforts.

Here you are, leading a team of toy makers. Which vision should you offer them:

  1. Our toys make wide-eyed kids laugh and proud parents smile.
  2. Our toys are enjoyed by all our customers.

Research found, not surprisingly, that vision number 1 encouraged significantly better performance.

When I lead meetings of leader-managers to develop a vision, I ask them to think of a day when every operation and every team is working optimally. Absolute perfection. A dream come true. Then I ask them to describe that day in these terms:

  • What am I seeing?
  • What am I hearing?
  • What am I doing?
  • What am I thinking?
  • What am I saying?

They write it down and then share it with the others. Then we capture the key themes and develop a joint vision. The resulting visions are invariably amazing and they all paint a clear picture that can bring employees fully on board.

What is your clear, image-based vision that you use to bring people fully on board?

The lights are on but no one’s home

Years ago, I participated in a training exercise I’ve never forgotten. To this day, it makes me queasy with discomfort!

The trainer asked us to pair up and one person in each pair was to leave the room for a couple of minutes. I went out. While we were out, the trainer instructed those remaining that when their partners returned, they were to engage us in conversation and listen. BUT – they were to offer no sign whatsoever that they were listening. No eye contact, no nods, no grunts, no nuffink.

I can tell you, I found the absence of those non-verbal ‘encouragers’ not only extremely off-putting, but actually quite distressing.

Two things happened very quickly:

  1. I reached the firm conclusion that my partner was an absolute dork.
  2. I dried right up.

Normally, as those of you who know me know, I can talk the hind leg off a donkey, but with someone sitting opposite me, just sitting there like a lump and doing absolutely nothing, I completely lost my train of thought. I began rambling wildly. And then I ground to a halt. I was most uncomfortable to say the least.

That made me realise, in a very visceral way, how important it is to not just ‘sit there’ and listen. We need to do something.

So here are six small but crucial things to do when you’re listening to someone:

  1. Make eye contact.
  2. Nod.
  3. Say ‘uh-huh, ‘I see’ and ‘mmm’ a lot.
  4. Repeat a key word or phrase.
  5. Orient your body towards the speaker.
  6. Lean slightly forward towards the speaker.

That way, you won’t find your conversational partner drying up and thinking you’re an absolute dork.

How to prevent people from lying to you

People lie. Some people tell the odd white lie; some lie so they don’t have to tell a difficult truth (to themselves or someone else); some people lie habitually.

Most people don’t become habitual liars because telling a lie, at least for personal gain, causes the amygdala, which lies (no pun intended) deep in the brain, makes them feel bad about the lie. But the more lies a person tells, the more the ‘feel-bad-about-the-lie’ response fades. As that response fades, it becomes easier, and easier, and easier, to lie. And the bigger the lies become.

Lying is a slippery slope. Habitual liars become habitual liars because they lie a lot.

You may know an habitual liar. It might someone you work with, someone you negotiate with, someone you ‘meet’ on the Internet, a neighbour or even a friend.

You probably can’t do much to stop a chronic liar lying to you. But you may be able to head off other people’s lies.

Here are two easy ways:

  • Tell the truth yourself. Since people tend to respond in kind, truth-telling encourages truth-telling.
  • Get to know people, because people are less likely to lie to someone they know, like and trust than they are to a stranger.

Here are three slightly more complicated, but also effective, ways to ward off lies:

  • When you make an assumptive statement or ask an assumptive question, put a negative, or pessimistic, spin on it. When the spin goes against the interests of the other person, they’ll disagree with it. When it’s the truth, they’re like to agree with it rather than tell an outright lie by contradicting it.The reason this works is that people tend to agree with assumptions and assumptive questions, which means they’ll agree with an incorrect assumption when it’s in their interests to do so. But when the assumption is incorrect and goes against their interests, people are willing to disagree with it and set the record straight.
  • Don’t let spin and articulate avoidance fool you. Inarticulate honesty is always preferable to articulate lies and confuscations.
  • When you as a question or make an assumptive statement, make sure the question is answered and the assumption isn’t artfully avoided.Bamboozling people with eloquence and avoiding answering questions are two other ways people skirt the truth. To make sure that doesn’t happen to you, remember your assumptive comments and questions and make sure they’re addressed. Write them down if you need to and don’t move on until you have your answer.

Encouraging the truth isn’t only in your own best interests. It also helps others by making the slippery slope of lying harder to slip down.

The blame game

You’ve probably seen the diagram of a small circle, labelled ‘Things you can control’ with a larger circle around it, labelled ‘Things you can affect’ and a much larger circle around that, labelled ‘Things you can neither control nor affect’. That huge outer circle includes things like the weather and the economy. In the ‘Things you can affect’ circle are matters like your family’s happiness and the results you get at work. In the ‘Things you can control’ circle is basically yourself: your behaviour and your attitude.

That diagram of three circles leads us to Denial, Blame, Excuses and Responsibility. So imagine this: You’ve had a hard day and you’ve finally made it home and are sitting comfortably with your feet up, trying to chill out. The kids are in the kitchen and you hear a crash, tinkle, tinkle. ‘What happened?’ you ask. And what’s the response? ‘Nothing!’ That’s Denial; something has clearly happened.

So you say, ‘Don’t tell me nothing! I heard something break!’ And you hear ‘It wasn’t my fault, it was his fault.’ That’s Blame.

So you say, ‘I don’t care whose fault it is–what happened?’ And you hear, ‘The bottle was slippery and it fell out of my hand.’ That’s an Excuse.

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear, ‘I dropped a bottle. I’m just getting a mop to clean it up.’ That’s taking Responsibility.

Quite a few adults have turned Denial, Blame and Excuse into something of an art form, which means they focus not on the little inner circle of Control, but on the big outer circle of No Control. So nothing changes.

Let’s take a look at the first refuge or the irresponsible: Blame. Someone slips on the pavement. Do they blame the council for not sweeping up fallen leaves or do they take responsibility for not taking care how they’re walking? Blame is a great defence mechanism. It preserves your sense of self-esteem by avoiding admitting to your own shortcomings. But you’ll keep slipping on leaves.

Someone leaves the sausages in the frying pan too long and they burn. Do they take responsibility for being distracted or do they blame their partner for not doing their share of the housework so they have to multitask. Blaming others is great when you’re in attack mode. And it’s great when it’s easier to blame someone else rather than accept responsibility. But you’ll just start an argument and keep burning the sausages.

Blame is also handy when you think you can lie and get away with it. ‘I didn’t drop the bottle and leave the mess behind.’ Then you cross your fingers and hope no one saw you drop the bottle.

Of course, not everything is our responsibility. But when it is, we need to step up to it. The more we play the blame game, the more we lose. And the less we learn.

Managers, team leaders and parents take note: Step up when you need to. And teach your team members and your children to step up, too.