I was recently having breakfast at an out-of-town hotel (something I do quite often these days) prior to a client meeting and at the table next to me sat three businessmen. They were also away on business and their day, like mine, was just starting. Being “terminally nosey” (my wife’s way of saying it), I was having my breakfast and listening to their conversation at the same time. The conversation I was overhearing was one I have heard a hundred thousand times, only change is the names and the faces.
It goes like this: Bill (not his real name) is talking to his two breakfast companions.
“Joe’s not talking to me and so, I’m not talking to him. He got upset over some little thing I did. I didn’t call him after the last customer meeting to give him feedback from the customer. Okay, I forgot. No big deal. But he really went off the deep end, saying I’m not professional and that I only care about my own goals and objectives. I just forgot, but there’s no way I’m going to apologise to him, not after that outburst. What does he expect? Am I supposed to call him even if I’m driving through his sales territory on holiday?” Blah, blah, blah . . . the monologue went on for 5 minutes.
There are two things wrong with this scene and both take a toll on the health and productivity of organisations: First, the childish behaviour of Bill. Bill is obviously a member of a team of people trying to help their company reach it’s goals. What if the center on a football team refused to hike the ball to the quarterback because of something he said? What if the left forward refused to kick to the striker because he hurt his feelings? Both these behaviours would be highly unprofessional, childish and they wouldn’t last long on the team. Not so in business. Somehow this type of behaviour is commonplace and the individuals aren’t even aware of how detrimental this is to the organisation, productivity and performance.
The second is equally harmful to the productivity of the organisation and more insidious. Neither of the two people having breakfast with Bill had the courage to be honest with Bill about his “childish, whining” behaviour. Instead, they just rolled their eyes, kept on eating their oatmeal, not saying a word. I was two tables away and it was obvious by their body language and facial expressions that they both thought Bill was being a jerk and making things harder for himself and Joe. But neither had the courage to help coach Bill or even challenge his behaviour. Bill just kept up his childish diatribe and the others remained silent.
I stuck around after Bill (aka Mr. Blowhard) left and the other two talked back and forth for close to 10 minutes about what a jerk he was, how nobody wanted to work for him, about his poor management record, etc. They had tons to say, but not to Bill.
Recently I have been consulting inside a large defence company where we have the exact same situation, but this time it is a senior VP. He’s a bully, explodes at people, is constantly raising his voice to get his point across, and more often than not, he also misses the point of the discussion all together. And his peers, the other members of the senior executive team have basically “given up”. When Mr. X starts his bully tactics in meetings, everyone just tunes out. No one challenges him, no one asks him to stop shouting, no one confronts his bullying behaviour. What do you think the mood and morale is on this particular leadership team when SVP X is in the room?
And the worst part is, they have meetings about issues that impact his department, but don’t invite him. Why? Because they are trying to avoid his behaviour. You can imagine the uproar when he finds out. He is genuinely hurt and frustrated.
Now here’s the interesting part. Neither Bill “the jerk” nor Mr. X Senior VP realise how they come across to others! We all see it clearly, but they don’t. And it’s the same way with each of us. I may be acting spoiled, childish, or like a bully without even realising it. Unless I get honest, direct feedback, I remain justified in my own mind. Each of us actually has a pretty good reason for how we act at all times. Our actions make sense to us. It is only when we get direct and honest feedback that we can calibrate what our emotions and thoughts tell us versus how other people experience us.
The sad situation in most companies (and most places on this planet for that matter), is that very few of us get any real, honest, direct feedback about how we come across. Raise your hand if you get too much feedback! Where is the rule that states “it’s not our job” to give other people on our team honest and direct feedback? It’s a false belief that seems to be in epidemic portions in most businesses and organisations. And as a result Bill continues to behave like a jerk and SVP X uses bully tactics to get across his ideas.
Want to help change this negative and destructive cycle? Learn to give, and receive honest and direct feedback.
Feedback is the breakfast of champions. ~Ken Blanchard
Tight Lines . . .