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Are you Right or are you Winning?

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were convinced that you were right and that the person you were debating with was wrong? Or that someone else’s behaviour was ‘out of order’ and that it up was up to them to ‘apologise’ or ‘make the first move’?

Perhaps you’ve had that situation with someone who worked for you? Or perhaps you’ve been the one on the other side of the argument?

It’s really easy to get stuck sometimes, and it’s happened to most of us at some time or other.  Sometimes as a manager you will see the situation occurring between two peers or between two of your staff. But what do you do about it if you are the boss or the peer?

This came up in a conversation with a client of mine recently. He was in a situation where he had been given some ‘feedback’ by his manager. Except it wasn’t really feedback. It was a long list of what the manager thought they should and shouldn’t be doing and why the manager thought it was so. In feedback terms this is a ‘slam dunk’ and when we teach feedback to managers we find that a large amount of what is called feedback is really a ‘slam dunk’ (you know the type of feedback – negative and not designed to help someone improve performance; just a way of letting someone know how wrong they were. And if at this point you are thinking, ‘That’s the feedback we do in our business’ then maybe you want to look at our coaching culture programme.)

My client was rather unhappy about this and it had caused a number of sleepless nights and emotional outpourings with trusted friends. In fact it became obvious that my client was one step away from looking for a new role, to anywhere where his boss wasn’t. This, by the way is the regular result of poor feedback skills. De-motivation!

But the actual feedback had happened a few weeks previously. So I asked why my client hadn’t raised this with his boss and given them some feedback about that conversation, explaining how it had left them feeling and how disempowering so much of it had been. The answer was ‘ Why should I?’ and ‘It’s not up to me to make my boss better at their job!’

At this point I am sure that you have been there before, haven’t you? Whether you were angry at the boss, or hurt or worried about the way they had spoken to you I am sure we’ve all been somewhere like this before. So what do you do?

I know that some of you will have heard me use this maxim before, so it will be no surprise that I told him that one of my favourites is’ Am I right, or am I winning?’

We used this to talk through who was suffering most as a result of the ‘Why should I?’ approach, and whether it was his role to help his boss be ‘better at his job’ or not. The answer is probably obvious to you, right? Who was having the sleepless nights? Who was replaying the scene time and again in conversations with himself (we all do that, don’t we?) and with trusted colleagues? Who was using all that energy and building up the stress? Certainly not the boss!

In a perfect world, everyone would recognise when they have not been at their best, bosses included, and they would do the ‘right thing’. But waiting for that to happen and wasting energy, time and emotion on it is certainly not going to keep you ‘winning’. The answer is to become skilled at giving feedback to the person you need to. Proper non-emotive feedback (not a slam dunk)

But let’s track back to a question I posed earlier. What do you do if you are the boss and you see it happening between two peers or two of your team?

Let’s start with what not to do.

1) Don’t make a judgement. Don’t tell one of them they are right and the other is wrong. You know where that will lead don’t you? No? Who has become the problem now?

2) Don’t ‘bang their heads together and tell them to sort it out or you will!’ either. You know what kind of damage that will cause to your reputation as a manager don’t you? Positional power as a problem solver between people? Good move? (anyone that thinks yes at this point should call me now!)

When I run conflict resolutions, one part of the process is to get people to look at the problem from the other person’s point of view. You might want to try that. It takes every ounce of your coaching skills (and if at this point you are getting worried, then you do need to talk to us about our coaching culture programme!), but as a boss or as a peer all you are doing is facilitating enough thinking between two people to get them to talk the problem through for themselves (perhaps with someone like me to make it work well between them if it’s not a good role for you).

You can of course sit them down (individually), tell them that you know something is not right between the two of them and ask if they want to talk about it. If you can get them to unload with you it might help (especially if you don’t try & solve the problem; for all the reasons above!) and then when the moment is right you too can ask them, ‘ what are you going to do about it?’ and if you get all the reasons that it’s not up to them you might want to ask your version of ‘Are you right or are you winning?’


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