All teams at one point have challenges and issues when it comes to team members cooperating with each other. This is because teams consist of humans and human nature takes over.
We know that effective teams engage in healthy debate and address conflicts head on and they also know that holding back will not make them win as a team.
At times however, a peer has gone too far: He’s told you something in a meeting or in front of a client and as a result you were confused, insulted, attacked or alienated and you were not able to defend your point at that moment. Or she’s criticized your efforts in front of your peers or you’ve heard through the grapevine that your peer was thrashing your last actions or initiatives. Sometimes these clashes escalate out of control in a meeting till the boss calls you both to order. Sometimes peers openly criticize entire teams.
So, if your peer has gone too far, then waiting for the next team building event where you can gather around the campfire, holds hands and sing Kumbaya is not a good idea. Some of my clients actually do wait for an event to occur until they address this ‘thing’ they’ve heard.
This situation happens often and when it does many people choose:
1) To avoid the peer altogether and start a cold war.
2) Bad mouth the peer in front of others in order to get even.
3) Wait for revenge and attack this peer in a subsequent meeting.
4) Suppress the moment and let it fester until you explode on another occasion.
All situations above lead to incremental work stress and they can affect your mood, your performance or worse, your health.
Practically speaking you need to deal with this immediately since you’re either stressed, upset or you’re feeling animosity toward this peer and you may find out that all this negative energy ‘was for naught’.
It is possible that this was a classic case of ‘communications breakdown’ that is, no ill will whatsoever from your peer but it came out wrong and ‘it’s nothing a conversation can’t fix’ is what I always say. But how do we have this conversation if we’re still visibly upset?
It’s a technique call ‘Giving feedback’ to a peer.
This is a method that we used while at Bell in Canada. We had purchased an entire program or modules on how to improve inter-peer collaboration. Those courses were given by our line managers. In some cases, my director would give us a course and in some other cases a director of another department would give the lesson. After the lecture we would then practice the lesson on each other. We would simulate the exercise and when we left the session we knew if a peer wanted to meet us ‘to give us feedback’, then:
1) We knew that this was important,
2) We could not postpone the meeting indefinitely and,
3) We knew the ground rules in order to not lose time and get closure on the matter.
The ideal situation is to meet this peer; give him/her feedback and attempt to find resolve. Here are the steps:
1) Ask your peer if it’s OK to meet with you. If he/she asks why, indicate that there is a business issue you need to discuss with him/her. Our ‘code word’ after we were all trained was: “Johnny… I need to give you some feedback”.
2) Find a room, a neutral territory – not his office, not your office, not in a public place and make sure no one interrupts your meeting.
3) Explain to him the process from [a-h] below and ask your peer to respect the process in order for this meeting to be effective:
a. Thank your peer for taking the time to meet.
b. Indicate that you intend to work on a collaborative manner with him, however something came up and you need to talk about an issue.
c. You take only 60 seconds to explain what has offended you …not more otherwise it becomes a long-winded rant which is not productive.
d. You refer to the moment when your peer said ‘XYZ’ in that particular meeting. When you heard him say ‘XYZ’ either you took it personally, it offended you or you explain how this comment made you feel. For example, “Johnny when you openly said that my team was consistently missing deadlines I felt you were attacking me as a leader and my inability to get the job done.” You could also say that you thought that this comment was uncalled for or unfair towards you. You did not understand why he would say this or why was he making those assumptions based on your performance or your department’s performance. Pick only one!
e. You tell him how these comments made you feel: Betrayed, upset, stabbed, humiliated, stressed. Pick only one!
f. You would appreciate for him to refrain from doing this in the future. Notice that you are not telling him or ordering him to stop, rather you would appreciate…
g. All this in 60 seconds. If you’re lucky and you peer didn’t interrupt you in this 60 second moment (if he does, remind him to please wait till you are done – hence the rule), then you can go to the next step. You may get a grin, a grunt, a heavy sigh, rolling of the eyes, a confused look or even a sarcastic smile while you are saying your piece but try to keep your cool and stick to what you’ve planned to say.
h. Tell him that you will now let him speak. At this point you need to take the feedback/explanation/apology/denial. Do not speak. Do not interrupt. Take notes if easier. Let him say his word – this may take 60 seconds or it may require 4 minutes.
i. After he’s said his piece, wait and count 3 seconds; ask him if he is finished…if so, then engage into the discussion by reiterating how you felt after hearing his comments. Try to get closure.
j. If you find that you cannot agree then say to him that it’s clear that you both don’t agree and inform him that you will escalate this to your boss in order to resolve the matter.
k. Thank him for the meeting. Shake hands and leave with a positive statement that you intend to work with him and you intend to find a solution. “Not collaborating is not an option”.
In my experience, in 80% of the times your peer will be surprised and it was simply a miscommunication – to which she should apologize since she did not realize that she offended you. In the other 20% of the times, there may be a debate, a difference of opinion or she may stand her ground. On few occasions, there is deadlock.
You may feel that this peer has a reputation for his toxic behavior or that he ‘says one thing in front of you and says another with others’ – hence the political animal. This is possible. If your peer is toxic with you there’s a pretty good chance he’s toxic with others. This is a common trait for toxic people.
At a minimum by calling him out, he may respect you more. If it persists, then it’s time to bring this up with your boss and have a conversation. Your boss may have some ideas on how to solve this and she will appreciate the fact that you’ve tried to get closure with Johnny before approaching your boss.
Regardless of the outcome – you win! You had the courage to face your peer; give him feedback and get this off your chest and out of your mind, reduce your stress level and focus on what matters.
Most people won’t have the courage and prefer to remain stressed or perturbed. Which do you prefer?