Despite your best efforts to keep a positive atmosphere, there is negativity going on in your team. It is part of being a human being and the natural order of human relationships. As long as we have a memory we will have conflicting views, misinterpretations, assumptions, and fears that create conflict. So as the leader how do you work with negativity?
First, you don’t go negative on negativity; instead you welcome it with fascination and curiosity. You bring an open mind to it, without any hard-handed pre-conceived judgments. Negativity can be very intelligent, sharp, and eye-opening. They can observe the beliefs as a leap off point; an existing structure from which they organize action toward their chosen goal, and trust their decisions.
Here are some general guidelines:
- Always ask what they need from you; find out. Don’t condone or attempt to purge the negativity.
- Don’t attempt to make it positive (it’s a threat to what is real for them).
- Validate other people’s feelings by showing you understand what is real for them.
- Share some of the burdens by empathizing with their frustration.
- Notice when they exhibit positive energy—build on ways to notice this.
- Everyone wants to feel listened to, and feel important, meet these universal needs. People don’t have to like each other, but they can respect each other’s talents to work together
People don’t care what you know until they know you care. Listen to their listening. When you let go of your biases, you’re able to listen generously. You not only listen to what is being said but the person that is saying it. There’s a big difference. Don’t just act as you’re listening, get interested. Try to assume what they’re saying is true, and try to imagine that it could be true of through humble inquiry. This starts by having a blank canvas in mind, and following your curiosity to ask questions. You can get more information, ask for clarity, draw out implications, and inquire into discrepancies such as double standards.
Keep in mind that you’re not the hero in the story nor are you the main character. You’re the coach. They are creators, not victims. The hero is the lifeguard who jumps in the pool to rescue, fix, and disempower others to help themselves. This doesn’t confront people’s freedom and invites out their consent. If you want choice-makers, not just compliance, you must let go of your need to feel responsible and be the caretaker. And if you’re pushing people in the pool to affirm yourself as such, watch out!
Leaders assume the hero when they don’t trust their decisions. They need approval and affirmation to compensate for their own shame and fear isolation. But when you, the leader, comes by their current contents honestly, objectively, and accurately, they don’t have their identity in their decisions. Instead, they’re reverent to the potential and capacity ready to be born in others. The leader is comfortable with his own fragility, ignorance, and incompleteness. This way others can shine in the fullness of their potential because the leader is conversing legitimacy, acceptance, and support, such that an atmosphere of trust gives rise to choice and consent.
In this spirit, the leader’s work is to uproot competing commitments that trap, outlaw, and ambush others’ performance capability. The leader must learn through this atmosphere of trust and how getting at the Big Assumption UNDERNEATH that undermines a person’s capacity to perform.
Here are questions that help:
– What would you like to see changed or improved at work to be more effective and satisfied?
– What commitment does your complaint imply? (This could be a principle or preference; i.e., open communication)
– What are you doing for or against the realization of this commitment?
– When you do the opposite (of the undermining behavior brought up) what is scary or worrisome?
– What outcome are you attempting to prevent by doing (the undermining behavior)?
Note in this inquiry that you’re helping see the big assumption at play here. Emotions always arise from notions, concepts, judgment, and generalizations.
Working with the Big Assumption:
We must then look at what plays out when it’s actively in use; go backwards from the consequence, to the behavior, to the strategy, to the beginning governing paradigm (assumption) from which the pattern arises. This is called “double-loop learning.”
A consequence (negative)
The leader is to help the individual acknowledge the pattern at play that reinforces their re-activity. Second, identify the desired consequences, describe and define the current reality (with the traditional pattern as a facet of it), and then define a chosen set of actions to close the gap.
The leader can help the person invalidate the assumption when they’re righteous and stuck on a mental model:
- How do you know this assumption or conclusion is true?
- How do you absolutely know it’s true (compare the data to the conclusion)
- What could be possible if you didn’t believe it?
- Who would you be if you didn’t believe it?
By releasing the certainty of the mental model, the leader has helped the person break free of old patterns of behavior that are entrenched in the original thinking that leads to it. Now, the individual can coordinate a new and more adequate pattern of behavior from choices, instead of beliefs. They can see they are as a leap off point to leading change, on behalf of their choices, and trust their decisions.