Emotional reactivity (which comes in various forms) can render people “difficult to work with.” I previously noted that there are 6 common reactive patterns for individuals working in groups: Fusion, Conflict, Distance/Cut-Off, Over-Functioning, Under-Functioning, and Triangling. I previously highlighted the first two and it’s past due to identify the others!
Distance/Cut-Off: For some people, when they are under stress or are anxious, they react automatically by distancing from others. This is classic “conflict-avoidance.” I would argue that this is a virtual epidemic, especially in organizations where there are a lot of technical experts. For example, the pressure of having to have a difficult conversation with someone is just too much for some and they pull away. And in extreme cases, they cut-off all together. They’ll just refuse to have contact.
In one critical case, I observed two very senior leaders (the CIO and the SVP, Sales) who refused to communicate with each other for over 3 months! The collateral damage in their departments was unbelievably destructive.
Emotionally mature leaders muster the courage the stay in professional contact with significant others. Despite the heat, they don’t leave the kitchen! It can be hard to do sometimes, but it must be done.
Self-Leadership Tips: If you find yourself falling into this automatically reactive pattern, consider the following:
- Get the facts. Become objective about the situation. If, for example, you need to have a difficult performance discussion with someone, think about what they’re doing that’s working and the impact that it’s having; make a list. Then ask yourself, “what will happen if I do NOT have this conversation?” How will it impact me? The person? The team? The organization?
- Have the difficult conversation. Armed with the facts and the conviction that the conversation is necessary, muster the courage to have the discussion.
- Bring notes with you. Sometimes it’s very helpful to go into the conversation with notes that you’ve made. A couple of reasons for this: One, it will keep you on task and focused. Two, the stress of the conversation might make you forget your train of thought. Don’t wing it!
- Stay in contact. As mentioned, a very natural tendency for some people is to avoid others they perceive as difficult. And there might be times where a temporary break is helpful. But typically it does more long-term harm to keep a distance emotionally and/or geographically for too long. Healthy leaders stick with it.
- Keep observing yourself and watching for your own automatic reactive tendencies. I can’t repeat this enough. Become a student of yourself. This simple awareness has power in and of itself. Engage in deliberate acts of objectivity!