Ever sat in a meeting or been part of a team where you suddenly felt the temperature in the room rise, the tension become thick and the air heavy? So have we. That is the reason behind this post. How do you handle difficult situations or challenging people in a meeting or workplace? Here is the top advice from the PGS consultant team from their experiences on the road. Try one or more tips the next time you find yourself in a challenging spot, and see what happens.
One caveat before we start. There is a distinction between a difficult situation that requires resolution and one that is prompting the team to stretch and grow. As Bill Dann, our CEO, shared: “A certain level of tension is necessary to operate at an optimal level. To keep the team stretching, growing and improving, the tension between where they are and where they want to be is a good challenge.” You can liken it to the “good” pain of building and stretching muscles. So, in your teams, the struggle may be some healthy confront that needs to happen, which will mean progress for the team as a whole.
- Long before the onset of difficulties, set team or meeting ground rules for communications in your meetings or your team – i.e., don’t interrupt, recognize that everyone has his or her own point of view on what is going on, acknowledge that each individual’s perspective is valid, etc.. Then, when a difficult situation arises, you may be able to simply review your agreed upon rules, and the situation will dissolve itself.
- Acknowledge a conflict when it arises, instead of ignoring it. Pause the discussion and use a tool that allows the group to speak freely, get their “stuff” out in the open and then get off of it. Email us for a copy of “What I Feel Like Saying”, the tool we use for this purpose. Using a tool that creates a safe space to talk about what is going on without judgment or fear allows the team to seek understanding and eventually the solutions to the challenging situation.
- When the road gets bumpy, find common ground in the situation and/or group. What is something everyone on the team can all relate to? What can they all agree on? It doesn’t necessarily have to be about the topic at hand, at least not initially. Finding a shared viewpoint puts everyone onto the same team again and is the start of finding a solution to the problem that created the tension.
- Strip out the personal sides of a difficult situation. Look at the system for causes and solutions first. The vast majority of people want to do a good job and are not trying to create difficulties, rather it is the system they are working in that is frustrating them. Stopping accusations on individuals and turning as a group to find the problems in the systems is a terrific way to diffuse a challenge.
- Don’t get defensive or reactive. Be willing to hear your own role in the difficult situation for what it really is. Once each person can see clearly how his or her own actions impacted the situation, it is easier to work toward an understanding.
Next, 5 tips when the challenge is coming from one individual:
- When an angry outburst disrupts an otherwise peaceful meeting, be willing to confront what is really happening with the individual, to come to an understanding of what the real issue is. Is the individual exhausted, in a fight with his/her spouse, worried about a side issue that is not being addressed? Figure out the real reason for the disruption, then determine whether that meeting time/format is the best place to address and resolve the concern. If not then, make sure to get the help needed for the individual to resolve what has them aggravated.
- Another tool for diffusing a tense situation with an individual is listening with a sincere intent to really understand what is creating the difficulty. When the individual knows she has been heard, she can frequently move off the frustration to a solution. Demonstrate that the individual has been heard by restating/reaffirming what she said, not simply saying “I understand”.
- Be willing to acknowledge another’s viewpoint even if you don’t agree with it. If you acknowledge with another that what is going on right now is true for him rather than make him wrong in his opinions, he will often back away from a confrontation and seek a solution with you.
- Help an individual articulate what is wrong – frequently it is something simple that plugged her in or something that can be handled.
- Determine how it would be best to address an issue. If you have to take a break from a team setting to handle a situation one on one, do that.
Finally, there are a very few situations that just can’t be resolved. In any given group there can be up to 20% of the members bent on ruining the meeting/team/project. More often than not, it is 0%, but when there is a member or small contingent determined to ruin the game and undermine the team’s efforts, they need to be escorted out of the group until they are willing to confront that they are being destructive to the group.
There is not usually much you can do within the context of the meeting itself to handle an individual intent on ruining the team because to them, creating discontent is their game. After the meeting begin to gather real data on the individual’s productivity and confront them with the statistics. These individuals are often good at deflecting responsibility and looking busy, but their productivity stats give the accurate picture. Once they know the team knows, they often self-select to quit the group on their own.
In summary, there are a variety of methods, tricks and tools to try that will help a team or individual move beyond a confrontation. Worst case, you can collect the data needed to show that an individual is not productive and is undermining the team, then help them to find a project, team or work they can be excited about. But remember not to panic each time the tension mounts. A little tension just might be the catalyst to help a group operate at a higher, more attentive and productive level.