Boundaries protect us. Formalities, courtesies, plans and processes also provide our ‘safe’ structure.
Imagine being invited by friends for dinner, a barbecue or a day out – and the chance to catch up – but you’re greeted by a gang of unknown-to-you guests. Whilst making new friends may be interesting, the whole dynamic changes. Now it involves introductions and polite effort instead of easy banter.
At a wedding, sat on a table with strangers we hope we’ll get on with, we probably imagine a less-relaxed day (than with closer family and friends on familiar territory.)
What work scenarios have similar impact?
Last-minute start time changes
Two managers, in different countries, had regular early-morning conference calls with a wider management team. In one time zone it was first thing – but almost mid-morning in the other. Frequently, late the night before, the manager in the ahead time zone would reschedule the meeting – earlier!…
The later zone manager would arrive at work and dial in – only to find the conference call finished. So this manager would nervously check emails first thing, often finding it was too late – and the relationship became impossible.
Loud-speaker firing squad
This was one person’s favourite strong-arm tactic: To call out of the blue and hurl quick-fire demands or criticisms, topped-off with “So what are you going to do about it? By the way, you’re on speaker-phone and the rest of the team is here. Say ‘hi’…”
See if any of these sound familiar:
Unannounced additional meeting attendees – changing the dynamic
Extra meeting agenda items – that go over time or one person is fixated on a single item
Sudden venue or room change – a day of meetings gets unsettled – as can people
Insufficient or hard-to-set-up presentation equipment – losing 7 minutes in an allotted slot (when most people underestimate their timing) isn’t comfortable – even some professional speakers find it hard to recompose!
An awkward or unethical question in an interview e.g. “When I go to a party I’ll take a bottle of Gin – what do you bring to our party?”
Making people feel uneasy in training – making someone stand and say something uncomfortable to strangers
For some, even speaking by phone is becoming a fear! The habit of hiding behind social media and emails has diminished our ability to interact confidently at speed. We’re losing the art of conversation and the phone demands an instant dialogue response and the ability to think on our feet.
So if we need to tackle an issue with someone, it might be wiser to warn them electronically that we’re planning to call before we hit them with a barrage of questions.
Simply put, if we can stick to an agenda or warn when we’re going to veer off it, and pre-warn people about demands to be placed upon them, they’ll receive our requests more receptively.
Initially it may seem odd that we send out a preparation pack (we call it an invitation) to ease people into a workshop. But we tell them the agenda up front, what to expect, about the facilitators and contact details – and they turn up more comfortable and ready to learn.
Whilst we may not realise it, we can easily put people on the back foot, damage their trust and slow down the way they work with us.
We can help to make the most of others by:
1. Where possible, keeping to the plan – changing an arrangement simply because of our own poor planning is..poor!
2. Remembering that a small amendment to us can be an abrupt jolt to someone else
3. If changes are necessary, forewarning those involved is a simple sign of respect and doesn’t take much effort
We’re comfortable when we know what’s what. If we’re thrown off course, we’re less likely to be confident – and our brains respond slower when we’re stressed.
Flexibility and being able to react is a fact of life. But it’s worth keeping in mind that, when others know what to expect, they’ll probably be more cooperative, creative and problem-solving.