The results of acknowledging someone who challenges us!

This real life experience gives me the chills! It is amazing to see what a simple acknowledgment can do in the workplace, with someone who is challenging to us! Thank you, Trudy, for submitting this great story to me:

 I’m always excited at a project kickoff – the hopefulness and the initial enthusiam about the project always puts me in a good mood. But on this day, my kickoff happiness was tempered when I realized a certain person was assigned to my team: Jim was my technical lead, and I was grouchy about it. I walked away from the kickoff mumbling to myself about how I would have to put up with this guy’s negative comments – he never had a positive thing to say about anything. At every meeting, he would interject with statements like, “No, that won’t work,” or “You will never complete that on time,” and to be honest, he just irritated me. I decided to sit down and have a good talk with myself – this guy was on my team, and no amount of whining or wrangling was going to get me a new technical lead, so I had to just deal with it.

About that time, I remembered some of the concepts I read in Judy’s book: I remembered that acknowledging someone could change their attitude, and I thought that doing something different might change the dynamics of the situation. In our next team meeting, Jim did his usual – he shot down every idea, and ridiculed every deadline we set, and as usual everyone ignored him and kept talking about our project. But, this time, I stopped and took a breath, and said, “Jim, can you tell us more about why you don’t think we can do this?” He looked shocked. The whole team stopped talking and turned to him – I said, “Go ahead, Jim, we’re interested…” He was taken aback – he redded in the face a bit, but actually put his thoughts together and made a very logical argument about a point we had missed. I said, “Wow, I’m glad you pointed that out, Jim, I totally missed it. Could I ask you to take that one step further and help us understand what we should do to resolve the issue?” He said he would have to think about it, which, by the way, was fine with me, because he didn’t speak for the rest of the meeting!

Later, I stopped by his desk to discuss the issue more – I needed a risk mitigation plan for the issue he uncovered. I started the conversation by thanking him for discovering this issue – after all, had we not addressed it, the project could have been in trouble. He was so disoriented by now, he didn’t know how to respond, but I expected that – Judy reminds us in her book that some people cannot accept the acknowledgement we give, so I wasn’t put off by his confusion. Some time later, he came up with some ideas about handling the issue, and actually experimented with some of the solutions to understand what might work – he did excellent work, but no one ever knew it because of his negative approach.

Over the course of the project, I kept quizzing him about possible problems and solutions and praised him privately for being my “failure analyst.” I pointed out to him that it is a great and essential skill to see the weaknesses in a plan – I have a tendency to leap first and look later, so his skepticism kept me out of trouble more than once. After that, he took an active role in project meetings, even to the point of leading some meetings to analyze issues. At the end of the project, I made a special trip over to his desk to say thanks again for his overall efforts, and he told me something so interesting – he said, “You are the only person who listened to me – everyone always ignored me, but now I know I have something important to say.” That statement knocked my socks off…I’m not a great people person, but I think in this case, a simple acknowledgement formed a good and productive relationship with someone who provided a key need to the team! Thanks Judy!!!

 Trudy Patterson, Computer Associates