Generally people are uncomfortable about things they don’t know. The default reaction for many when faced with someone they don’t know, or something they don’t know is not to like them, or it, 'til they have ‘proved’ themselves to be trustworthy or worthy of their support.
This is such a big issue actually and forms a section within all my Communications skills training sessions, under the sub heading Making the right first impression. If you are interested in exploring my take on Essential Communication Skills, please click here.
One of the many problems with this ‘fight or flight’ default stress reaction – run a mile or fight them but above all, don’t like/ support until enough proof is presented - is that if you are waiting to see if someone is likely to be friend or foe when you initially meet them, and they are doing the same thing, what physical behaviour are you going to be displaying? Is it possible that you both think ‘don’t like them?’ and move on. Don’t like could be equated with ‘won’t back them or their idea til I am sure that they are not going to a) show me up b) try to take my job c) make me feel uncomfortable. Some people have learnt to go to d) straight away – why is this person being presented in my life and what can I learn from them? But many people are not there yet.
Authority, Respect and Comfort Zones
How many times have you heard someone say, in defence of this reaction ‘Couldn’t stand him at first, but now we are best buddies, can you believe it?’ or ‘She’s really nice when you get to know her’. Many of us are going around, checking people out, wary of someone who might challenge our status quo. Our carefully choreographed dance of life. We are in our comfort zone when things are going well. We know what’s going to happen, and when, with whom and we can plan because of those elements. We can plan long term as well as on a short term day to day basis. Disruptors are not welcomed. Be they people or things, tasks or new ideas. Unless they are directly solving a known problem. One which they accept needs an outside solution and about which non survival is a real threat if they don’t adopt it. But that is usually last resort for most people.
Because we are very good at making do. Of getting round our issues. Coping mechanisms you could call them. So the problem or issue is still there but we minimise it, rather like the body does when it has a sore muscle or a damaged ligament. It can cause subsequent issues for the ‘sympathetic’ helper, but we still soldier on. Better the devil you know is a very real belief system. And I can understand that. And what if the proposed solutions make it worse? How will I cope then?
More importantly, what IF the proposed changes actually make things better. Does that mean I’ve been wrong about this? Why didn’t I see that solution, why didn’t I action that sooner? How’s it going to make me look?
Well with most things it’s about how it is presented, how you rationalise it and how real you are prepared to be. If you are infallible your staff will think that’s how they should be. Right, every time. What problems can this belief cause in your experience (when you were managed by someone like this perhaps?)
Blame culture is a very real issue, in relationships and in business. It’s a way of making sure everyone knows WHO’S fault something was, ie, NOT MINE. Taking responsibility for our failures as well as our successes is a very present challenge for many. Will people still want to employ me, be managed by me, take my advice, respect me, if I am proven to be wrong. Insecurity takes hold and the defences go up.
But was does the word WRONG mean? What is this thing we are pointing the finger at disapprovingly? Perhaps we can break that down into something that makes sense.
It is a decision or set of decisions which led to an outcome that someone felt was not the right one. That is also a value judgement. Using their values. Which might not be the same as yours. Or perhaps you didn’t have the right information to base your decision on. Perhaps it was flawed in some way. Just because you took that course of action does not mean you are bad person, a failure, someone to be respected less. This negative word ‘Wrong’ is laden with other elements too. Changing our mind. A U turn. So we’ve realised that perhaps that course of action might not get the outcome predicted. Perhaps it’s not too late to change course. So other unhelpful stereotypes kick in. People who change their mind are often perceived as weak. This is singularly unhelpful and arguably inaccurate. Perhaps some people change their mind every day as they are scared of actually committing to a decision which is an entirely different issue masking poor self image and confidence issues. But for most people it’s essential. Do you think people put off or procrastinate making ‘a u turn’ or changing their minds because of that fear that others will be annoyed with them? Do they think less of themselves if they can’t stick to a decision come hell or high water?
For example, a goal driven manager on a tight budget is seen as being preoccupied with the ‘bottom line’ – and something which cost the company money unexpectedly might be seen as something bad. However, the employee who chose to give a refund to the customer and handled their complaint so well that they are tweeting about it all over the internet, felt it was the right decision, and in my view, made the right decision long term, with an eye on good will. But this doesn’t help the manager who has now not met his quarterly target, will not get the bonus, has to explain to his wife why they won’t be going on that holiday he promised her, and might actually get the sack. Because this is not the first time this has happened. Of course the root cause here is likely to be his management style but the outward signs of success – his targets being met – are what is used to measure, one of the KPI’s no doubt, and the reasons the KPI’s are not being met have yet to be explored. Because no one has got the time to do it. And so on (this is also a big topic in itself which I can’t go into here).
So what I am trying to illustrate, what is WRONG isn’t always black or white and there are usually some people who support both outcomes. So who is to say you are actually WRONG? It is such a final word. A bit like the word FAILURE. People are entitled to have a view which is different to yours, they have had different experiences. It might not be my view, but I won’t say they are wrong.
Things have happened in their life which have conspired to make them think that is right, and if they are comfortable with it, that’s a nice feeling for them to have. However, if it is hampering business success or holding a department back, I feel it is my opportunity to try to show them alternative ways of approaching a situation which maintains a comfortable position for their ego while creating a gentle shift in attitude and then behaviour.