Have you ever been in a meeting and your boss or another team member says something that is just so inappropriate and self-undermining that you cringe and want to curl up in a ball under the table? It might not be something they say, maybe they interrupt people continually or can’t see that they are rubbing people the wrong way; as a colleague (whether it’s your boss, peer or subordinate) it’s your responsibility to address the issue. How you go about doing that is another story! Here are a few suggestions on how to start the conversation:
Be Delicate. It will obviously be difficult to address someone’s behavior, especially because in all probability they don’t see themselves as coming off rude or being disruptive – they think they’re moving things forward and are a positive influence. So you have to deal with the situation in the most delicate of ways. Letting bad behavior go on will just lead to bigger problems, and most projects today require collaboration, so you have to act, but do so with a level head.
Plan Ahead. You need to write down and rehearse what you are going to say. You need to figure out the best time and place to have a conversation. You need to think about who should be in the conversation. You need to think about that person’s likely reaction (it won’t be easy so don’t fool yourself – the more aggressive and undisciplined someone is in a meeting, the more aggressive and undisciplined they will be when you confront them). Whatever you do, don’t wing it!
Don’t Criticize. Keep in mind that you’re trying to help a colleague. Don’t try to be cute and round-about – your emotional outlook will be quite apparent when you broach the subject. If you’re being critical, you are just going to put the other person’s back up. Broach the topic and make them understand you’re trying to help, give them good advice, and help them grow. Most people, if approached properly, will try to get better after the initial sting wears off. But if they feel you are being overly critical, they will then take it as a personal slight and not advice on how to maximize their assets by learning proper business etiquette.
Just the Facts, Jack. Lay out your argument/commentary with factual observations. “In that meeting we had with ABC Company’s marketing staff, you kept interrupting Jeff Smith and wouldn’t let him finish a sentence. I could read his body language and it wasn’t pretty. I think you’ll agree that everyone wants to be heard and that will improve the communication between the two teams.” Don’t insinuate that they were being mean or interrupting intentionally – don’t make it about personality. Make it positive and a learning experience.
Stand Your Ground. It’s only human nature to have the person respond defensively. You need to stand your ground and explain that you are only talking about style and how to approach new partners and how to listen without interrupting. State your goal of trying to be of help and allow them the time and space to respond. But whatever you do and however they respond, don’t try to fight fire with fire. Be logical and stay with the arguments you prepared for – again, don’t make it personal.
Offer Continued Assistance. If you work together to problem-solve someone’s natural inclination to always interrupt or an aggressive personality trait, you stand a much better chance of long-term success over simply pointing out the obvious. You are more likely to see a fundamental change in behavior if the other person has an opportunity to work with a colleague to get better in their job performance. Suggest regular reviews after meetings to discuss how they are growing and improving their performance. At the end of the day, remember that we all need a helping hand now and then.