Change Manager, Change Thyself
There is a man across the table yelling at me. He is seriously irate. He is loud, a little red in the face, blustering mightily.
And I yell back. Briefly, I just give in to the buttons being pushed, and the words pop out of me like a hot pot on the stove with a loose lid and too many kernels.
Because he is wrong. I know he is wrong. I am right. I am right in 6 different ways. The guy is a complete bombastic, process-crazy Visio junky whose contribution appears to largely consist of wringing his hands about how broken we are. So my initial reaction is defensive, heated. My ears are buzzing, and my heart rate picks up. Frankly, I am more than a little bombastic and process-crazy myself at the moment and ready to defend myself.
Which is, of course, not the way to handle this. I know this. The mantra is, was, and always will be, "What is the business objective?" In this situation, in this room with my manager and Mister Loud, what do I need and want to accomplish? What is best for my client, for the company, for the organization which pays to put me in this room with these people for this conversation. What can I do to make this situation work for everyone?
It clearly isn't to defend myself with heated words and compelling, irrefutable arguments. Anyone who has already passed into the place where spittle is flying is beyond the ability to recognize and respond to reasoned discussion, let along being told they are being a butt munch with delusions of grandeur. Equally, it doesn't make a hell of a lot of long term sense to simply roll over and play dead. Or stupid. Or incompetent. Or even sycophantically apologetic. And finally, if I want to model good management and leadership styles, I actually have to Model Good Management and Leadership. Walk the walk.
What is called for first and foremost is to stop being angry. I need to stop being mad because this guy is mad at me. To achieve this requires that I briefly tune out of the immediate conversation and take a trip to my inner, considerably brighter me. It's not entirely clear I have yet mastered the ability to take this voyage without leaving Out of Office messages in my eyes, posture, and expression. On the other hand, better a few moments of obvious inattention than another half hour of this pointless exercise in high-volume, unmediated discourse.
The change-manager-in-training inside me tells me what to do… straight out of the books. First, breathe. Just breathe in, breathe out. All those swamis, gurus, and yoga teachers know what they are talking about. Breathe calm in, anger out. It turns out the buzzing in my ears was drowning out the sound of my conscious reminding me that while I was right in many different ways, I was wrong in one.
When he pauses briefly to take a breath, I apologize quickly, ripping off the pride bandage in one vicious gesture. I apologize on the issue of the seventh item for which I was culpable. While he fumbles, taken a bit off stride by the apology, I make the first gentle effort to steer the conversation towards, "What now? How do we move forward? What can I do to move this forward?"
It's easier now. He isn't as mad. There are another few minutes of rehashing the complaint and itemizing the insult to his position, before he almost instinctively bumbles his way towards the real problem. The thing I screwed up? It's a symptom of a larger problem that is driving him slowly mad. The larger problem renders him considerably less effective in his role and almost guarantees that he will enjoy few, obvious credible wins at this company. All of which I concur with completely. I am not without lingering resentment, but the honest to dogs truth is that everything he is now saying is an echo of my own frustrations, arguments, and concerns. I am his wholehearted ally.
Okay, I'm still right about the first six and he shouldn't have yelled at me. But as the conversation finally sorts through a few tactical decisions which help move my issue forward while addressing his concerns, I realize with a warm glow that I just CM'd myself. Sure I started off an angry muppet, but I recovered rapidly and when we walk out we are sorted and on good terms, we have next actions, and I didn't have to compromise my project goals. I may not yet be a model to others, but it felt like a win on the Toast Change Project.