Take, for example, the new leader I met in our leader development program in Boulder. About a year ago she was promoted over her fellow peers who were vying for the same role. The worse part about it was that her promotion was never formally announced and every time she facilitated a meeting or conducted a 1-1 discussion there was a huge, looming elephant in the room that would interfere with her relationships. That’s weird.
Or how about the senior leader who was in the middle of an important debate about a consequential decision for the organization. He was so passionate about his position on the issue that he hijacked himself and over-reacted in his response to his team member. The conversation ended abruptly when the team member unexpectedly left the room in tears. That’s weird.
Or how about the widening gap that the software developer noticed between Engineering and Product Management. Roadmaps were vague, there wasn’t clarity on what was needed, and the project direction kept changing without notice. And no one talked about it. That’s weird.
These weird moments often linger inside your gut and don’t go away. And when they don’t get addressed directly, you can feel, see and hear the unspoken words that perpetuate drama, ambiguity, and mistrust.
Here’s the good news. These weird moments are your queue to move directly toward a conversation instead of away from it. They are your opportunity to clear the air and create a clean slate. As one of the Managers I met last week in Denver said, “Respond, don’t react.” Reacting is based in fear and a problem orientation which is often surrounded by passive aggressive communication or an avoidance of any communication at all. Responding, on the other hand, is a proactive approach founded on an outcome-based orientation that is direct, honest, and respectful.
So, how do you start these weird conversations? Perhaps try something like this:
“Hi Susan, I’ve sensed that something odd has happened since my promotion. Do you have a moment to talk about it?”
“Bob, I’ve observed that things aren’t quite like they were between our two departments. I’d like to see us both be successful, would you be open to a conversation?”
“Hey Steve, I realize that I over-reacted in our meeting last week. Would you be willing to continue the discussion?”
Get the weird conversations started. Your sincerity in wanting to resolve the issue and get it out in the open is more important than any specific communication technique that you use. And, let those weird moments be your trigger to talk instead of letting things simmer.