Imagine this scenario, you walk into the kitchen at work and you meet the one person who you really have a problem with. Your heart sinks. They always manage to upset you, offend you, frustrate you and frankly you can do without it. What do you do?
The chances are, you grin and bear it as you make your cup of tea, then you go back to your desk and email your best mate to rant about how this person really gets your goat.
Fair enough, this is life. But what happens when it turns out you’ve been put on a project team with this person? Or they become your new boss?
One of the wonderful and interesting things about life is that we all have a very unique set of experiences that make us who we are – from our upbringing, our cultural background and the people who have influenced us to the opportunities we’ve had, or not had. Because we all have this unique take on life there will often be times when we meet people who don’t react in a way we expect or understand, and in some cases in a way we don’t approve of, and when that happens it can provoke a strong emotional reaction.
I’m interested in what we do with that emotion. It’s easy to blame the person who’s inspired it, “they are just inept/bad tempered/rude” and that’s one way to go. But it can leave us feeling powerless. “That person over there is making me feel like this!! The outrage!” But here’s the thing – you can choose to take their behaviour personally and you can choose not to.
For example, my partner is tidier than me, and finds my habit of leaving unopened (or opened) post around the house at best unfathomably weird. This might seem a trivial example, but we all know how the smallest things can be the most annoying, and how they can turn into big things if not addressed. At worst my partner might feel I’m being purposefully untidy, which is disrespectful to the tidy house he’s trying to create. So why do I leave my post lying around? I grew up in a house where things had to be tidied away swiftly, so as a reaction to that I like a relaxed attitude to tidying away paperwork. And you know what, I had never thought about that until he pointed it out.
Faced with your own example of perceived outrageous behaviour, what can you do?
As I see it, there are two options: you can actively choose not to let this behaviour get to you, know it’s not personal and get on with your life, or you can offer this person feedback in the hope that they will change their behaviour.
The problem is option one takes patience and restraint, which we sometimes doubt we have. Option two takes courage, we’re not sure of the reaction, we feel it’s not our place to feedback, for example, within a work hierarchy, or maybe we don’t feel we have the skills to have that conversation.
And because both options are hard, we often fall into default option three: rant and moan about this person or behaviour to our close friends. Whilst this can lower blood pressure by helping you let off steam, it’s not actually serving to improve the situation, and in fact, if you get stuck there, it tends to compound your feelings of injustice and helplessness, lessening the likelihood of ever getting to either moving on, or giving feedback. When I’ve been stuck in “rant and moan” myself, it’s never productively moved the situation forward.
Are you waiting for someone to change? Are you taking someone’s behaviour personally? What are you doing about that right now?
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What’s going on for the other person? By putting yourself in their shoes you might gain insight into why they appear to be being difficult. Think about their background, is this behaviour accepted in their generation/culture? Chances are, making your life hard isn’t their primary motivation. (I’m not saying this makes it ok, I’m saying it increases your empathy towards them, which makes a conversation easier)
- If you could explain the effect their behaviour has on you, what would you say?
- How do you feel about giving that feedback?
If you decide it is worth addressing your concerns with them, think through the most effective way of doing this. There has been a lot written about giving feedback, and a proper discussion would take up another few articles, but here are some general rules to bear in mind:
- Offeringface to face feedback (i.e. not via email or text!) is more productive as you can have a two way conversation about the situation. The person on the receiving end has a right to reply.
- Giving feedback in a timely way also helps it be received well. Try not to bring up things that happened three years ago. How would you feel if you thought someone had been mad at you for that long?
- Talk about the behaviour you see, not personality. For example “it stresses me out when you leave envelopes everywhere” rather than “you are untidy”. From the point of view of the person receiving the feedback, hearing about a specific behaviour one is exhibiting is easier to take, than a blanket statement about a personality flaw. You’ll get a better reaction!
- Talk about the impact of their actions on you. The chances are, the person you’re feeding back to has never thought about this, and this new insight can be the motivation to change “when you leave your post lying around it makes me feel like all the tidying I do during the week is unappreciated, and I can’t relax when the house is untidy”
- Choose a time to deliver the feedback when you’re not feeling emotional. If you offer feedback feeling calm and open, the chances are that this is how it will be received.
And remember, you cannot influence how others behave all the time, but you can control how you react to them.
Good luck and let me know how you go!
This blog was originally written for Bowland Solutions who provide software, support and coaching to support 360 feedback and performance management. They blog regularly about feedback and the power of meaningful conversations at www.bowlandsolutions.com/blog