I went to a national HR (human resources) conference last year and was recognised as the ‘Conflict Lady’. I was pretty chuffed at that because I had been working on raising my profile and it appeared to be working! Luckily, no one else heard this lady’s comment to me, or they may have thought I was a troublemaker, whereas you see, I am a peacemaker. I’m a workplace mediator and conflict manager. I’ve written a book on how to manage workplace conflict well, and I deliver presentations about managing workplace conflict better, both at local and national levels.
So, with this experience and profile, what happens when I, the conflict manager, “lose it”? And what happens when you, as the expert in your field, don’t live up to expectations of what you stand for; both yours and others?
Uh oh! That wasn’t appropriate.
From my perspective, as soon as I had used ‘that’ tone, I knew it wasn’t appropriate, and it could have led to something ugly. I had been working ridiculous hours to complete a project and when I thought it was 95% done and was told, “It isn’t working!”, my tiredness – and humanness – took over! I snapped at the bearer of bad (but true) news.
I needed to know that news but what I didn’t need to hear was a negative comment as soon as I walked in the door. On any other day, it may have been okay, but that day I was just too tired and thought that after I had put in a pretty long effort to get the business this far, something other than a negative comment could have been used to start the day.
But, it wasn’t the other person’s fault; they didn’t know how tired I was, how I longed for a few more hours of sleep to feel calm and balanced. So, when I snapped and used ‘that’ tone, it was through no known fault of theirs that they received a rude, snappy response.
So, what did I, the conflict manager, do to address this?
Well, I knew I needed some time before I approached the person to chat to enable me to calm down and put things in perspective. It took me about 15 minutes to get to a place where I felt in control of my actions and had gained perspective on the problems at hand. Then I had a follow-up conversation which I opened by offering an apology for using a snappy tone. I explained I was tired and still that was no excuse for how I responded. My apology was accepted, and we moved on.
I didn’t feel good when I responded with the initial tone, in fact, I was disappointed in myself for using it. Then I realised; I’m human, and when humans are tired, many respond in ways different to their usual communication style.
“But what I believe sets people apart as leaders and great role models is how they respond after the event and in my case, how I would address the problem I had created.”
How do you respond to your biggest critic – yourself?
As a leader or expert in your field, when you find yourself slipping up, making a mistake or not practising what you preach, how do you respond to yourself? Do you think you’re a failure or question who would want to work with you? Or do you take a step back, gain perspective and look for learnings?
Or, as in my case, do you recognise you are human and not a machine and realise that sometimes, yes sometimes, we may fall but understand that we know how to stand up again and do so? We can use this experience as a chance to model to others how to address the matter at hand and also to remember that even though we are busy, we are also human beings who make mistakes now and again.
If you find yourself in a position where you are not modelling ‘best practice’, I urge you not to berate yourself or give up, but to put into place all of your knowledge, skills and abilities and pick yourself up and get back on with business.
“Show ‘em how it’s done.” The world needs people like you! People with real experience.