Have you ever
worked side by side with a human stumbling block? Someone who
lives to rain on your parade? Does that person start to utter
the words “rotten idea” even before you’ve finished your
can pop up anywhere. They are our neighbors, our colleagues,
our bosses, our gym compatriots, and members of our boards of
directors. They are our sisters, our uncles, and our in-laws –
anyone who makes life more challenging than it needs to be.
So, what can we
do to diffuse these obstacles to our success and happiness?
Meet Henry. He
is a development director at a small nonprofit organization. He
does a superior job, raising dollars that exceed his goal even
in this tight economy. He enjoys his work, loves his nonprofit,
his boss, and the deeply committed board of directors.
And Henry has a
His problem is
that there is one board member who seems joyfully devoted to
sabotaging every single thing that Henry does. This board
member, - let’s call him Frankenstein - talks about Henry behind
his back, challenges any idea that Henry proposes, and looks for
ways to humiliate Henry in public.
If we could
magically tap into Henry’s head and follow his thoughts, this is
what we might hear:
Frankenstein trying to mess me up? I haven’t done
anything to him. I think he just wants credit
for everything. I always go out of my way to be nice
and complimentary to him. He’s a jerk. I’m not going
to acknowledge him anymore. This is his problem, not
mine. Hmm, maybe I can get other board members to
hassle him and see how he likes it.
Henry. I understand your frustration. I’d feel the same way
and likely I’d be exponentially more hostile. But, practically
speaking, here is the question: Does Frankenstein get in your
way and impact your ability to be effective? Yes! If
you ignore him, will he really go away? Probably not.
So, whose problem is it? YOURS!
What can you do
the nature of the problem. It isn’t whether Frankenstein is
right or wrong. It’s a question of whether he blocks
your ability to be effective.
recognized the nature of the problem, determine your
objective. Clarify in your own mind what you would like
to have happen. You’d like Frankenstein to stop harassing
- Create a
strategy and action plan to implement your objective.
Figure out what you can do to make that happen.
Since most people want to feel valued and heard, can you
identify a positive way to engage Frankenstein? What is he
interested in? Could you neutralize his poison and turn him
into a useful ally?
three-step approach is exactly what Henry did. He listened
carefully the next few times he saw Frankenstein and picked up a
useful tidbit of information. Frankenstein is a passionate
Henry’s solution. He took Frankenstein to lunch and filled him
in on one of the agency’s greatest, heretofore, unfulfilled
needs. They lacked a talented photographer who would attend
functions and take photos of events in action - someone who knew
how to capture the kinds of images that would reflect the
agency’s mission and core values. As a board member,
Frankenstein would bring great perspective.
was delighted with his new assignment. They talked about an
upcoming golf tournament which Frankenstein tried to squash at
the last board meeting. But now he was bubbling with ideas of
powerful images and how he could display them. He even picked
up the lunch check!
magical thing did Henry do to turn Frank around? He listened to
Frank and made him feel important. It’s amazing what people
will do for those two gifts -to be heard and
CHARMING AND DISARMING NAYSAYERS
- Get to
know them better. Invite them to share their ideas and find
positive ways to involve them.
- Make them
your allies. Talk to them ahead of sharing an idea and ask
them to help you think it through. Role play. Ask them to
propose the idea to you and to fiercely defend it as you
play devil’s advocate. That puts them in the position of
seeing its value.
- Once you
identify their interests, recognize them. That might be
emailing an article about mountain biking or sharing info
about a new vegan restaurant.
- Sit next
to them at meetings. It’s difficult to shut down the guy
sitting right next to you.
- Resist the
temptation to be dragged down. Take the high road.
It may sound
like a lot of time and energy to devote to someone who is
causing you unnecessary hassles. And it may not always be
worthwhile. The test is to weigh how much they are getting in
your way now, against what life would look like if they were
either neutral or supporters. It’s your choice.
If you have
questions or thought to share, please drop me a line at
Julie Grass, Principal
Grass helps leaders work
effectively to achieve
common goals. She is an
business coach, and a
expertise in strategic
thinking, navigating the
people dynamics in an
building a sense of
"team" helps her clients
obtain clarity, improve
communication and take
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