Workplace Political Tension
Written by Roxanne Brown.
There’s tension in the room. What’s happening here? An executive asks a question and the guest speaker answers. But then the speaker clears his throat. Or maybe he glanced to the side. Whatever he did, it was a sign to dig deeper. Maybe weakness. The rest jumped in with the inevitable attack. This had become standard. The preferred way to behave. Looking for something or someone to blame or some elusive answer to solve everything that had gone wrong over the last six months.
The woman in charge of this weekly executive check-in intervened. She took over the conversation, purposely, so they would focus on her and not the guest. Partially to protect the speaker, but mostly to get their focus on track. “Aren’t we here to make decisions?” To her, the purpose of the conversation seemed pretty straightforward. But it never was. There was danger. It was palpable. Unnamed and unclaimed but real.
People remember moments like this because they are emotionally charged. These moments stand out. Everyone is in hyper-self-protection mode. It’s a time to be clever. Careful. The possibility of changing the behavior of a group like this seems impossible. Just blow up the whole group and start over, that’s one solution. But that’s often just a fantasy. You’re stuck with who you’re stuck with. You can just live with it and wait for the pain to end one day. You could abandon the whole situation by finding another place to go for yourself. There are options.
Can anything be done constructively here?
What if you reimagined the whole thing? What if.....you suspended reality for a moment and imagined how you’d like this group to be? What would you imagine? How would it feel ideally in those meetings?
Having trouble with that thought? Understandable. Once you have a fear-charged memory conjured up it’s hard to replace it with something ideal.
Try this...take a breath and give yourself a moment to clear out that fear. Now...think about the best experience you’ve ever had leading a meeting or leading a team or working with a group of senior executives. What was that like? Okay, time to write some things down -- write down all of the adjectives that come to mind. Just keep writing and writing until you run out of adjectives.
Look at what you’ve written then ask yourself, what made it that way? What was happening? Write down what was happening. Again, keep writing and writing.
Then ask yourself, what did you accomplish because of all that was happening? Write down what you accomplished.
Now, sit back and look at it all. You have this great experience inside you. You know what’s possible because you’ve experienced it. It’s your story, not someone else’s.
Now that you're looking at what you’ve written and remember, ask yourself, what one or two things would I like to apply to the emotionally charged, fearful situation? What would it be like if that could happen? Picture it in your mind.
With that in mind, write down what success would look like for the current situation by completing this sentence, “I’ll know we’re truly working together toward successful outcomes when…” Write down as many thoughts come to mind for completing the sentence. This is what success looks like for you!
Now comes the hard part: The question to ask next is, what must be true to make this happen? This is when it’s time to be really honest with yourself. What do you need to change to make this happen? How do you need to be different? How do you need to think differently about all of the players? And, who’s help is critical to make this vision happen?
There are people to enlist to help you change what’s happening. More often than not you’ll find others want that too. If you are the leader of the group, you have a legitimate position to work from and others will be happy for your willingness to lead the group to a different place. If you aren’t the leader you can still have an influence. Just your presence, how you think about all of the players and holding your vision in your mind can have a positive effect.
There’s much more to do, but this is a solid start. A shift in your thinking alone will cause a shift in others. Things might start happening that surprise you. Your best bet is to be open to surprises. Look for them. Step in when they happen. Hold that vision while being open. Involve others. Pay attention to the negative but filter out what’s not constructive.
We know that work is what you make of it. Of course, it’s hard to remember that when you’re in the middle of the day, week, year packed with work responsibilities. The question is, now that you remember, what’s possible? Even more importantly, what are you going to do?
My Inspiration: Back in 2012 Daryl Conner interviewed lecturer and writer Peter Meyer. It was a fascinating discussion about the difference between using fear or attraction to bring about change. He also shared a practical, step-by-step approach to using attraction. I've been applying some form of his approach ever since. Thanks, Peter! Thanks, Daryl!
As a takeaway, use this and see our Self-Service Tools page for helpful resources.