Living Leadership

Living Leadership

Trust before truth — Take 2

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Julie Thorson
Julie Thorson

Last month I wrote about team members trusting one another before we lay a big pile of truth on each other. This provoked a great question that I posed to our team:

“How do you continue to be a strong leader when you are feeling personally attacked or hurt by another person who claims to be a leader?”

I emailed team members and asked them what advice they would have for their peers. I acknowledged it's not an easy question to answer; in fact, it can cut right to the heart, but I do think it is a question we could all share and learn from. The process of asking a question like this and prompting team members to really think about it was a great exercise and one I would recommend.

 Their responses were insightful, helpful, honest and encouraging. If anything, it was rewarding that they all thoughtfully considered the question and thought enough of it to give their response some time and energy and most importantly gave them time to personally reflect on what they do and don't do when they find themselves in this situation. Shocker, most have found themselves in this situation and to summarize one team member said. “It sucks when you feel like this.”

I can't take credit for all of the advice you are about to read. It came right from our Friendship Haven leadership team.

The reaction from each leader was interesting. One team member commented, “If I believe enough in my capabilities and knowledge, I would not ever feel personally attacked or hurt by another leader. I would take any comments from them as things that I may need to look into improving on.”

This feedback struck me in a very positive way. Knowing her personally and her confidence level, it came from a place of sincerity. But the idea that she doesn't allow herself to feel personally attached zooms right to the core of the question: How you allow others to make you feel.

If we have control of our own reactions, then why did the responses have such an emotional response from the majority asked? Because it's hard!

We jump right to telling ourselves a story. Sometimes the stories are pretty silly. Stories like, “They are out to get me,” or, “They don't like me,” or my personal favorite: “They are trying to make me look bad.” These stories we tell ourselves simply hurt our feelings. Many times co-workers shut down, attack back or go tell other team members about the painful conversation … all not good solutions!

One team member looked to the attacker and tries to figure out the motive. Is it a power play? Is it a personality conflict? Or is there a legitimate beef?

This puts the focus on the person delivering the message. It forces the person feeling attacked to step back and think about motive. This is where we come back to landing on trust. Do you trust the person delivering the message? If you question their motive chances are you don't trust them. If you trust your teammate is coming from a good place chances are you won't feel attacked.

Having empathy for the person who you feel is attacking you might be one of the most difficult skills to master. Rather than jumping to a defensive position, maybe all you have to do is listen and validate their perspective.

One team member described the feeling of kicking the defensiveness into overdrive as sliding down a slippery slope. This team member visually thinks about the word SLOPE to remind herself how to respond when feeling attacked: Stay calm, Listen and learn, Own the situation, Project professionalism and Empathize.

That visualization of sliding down a slippery slope is great when considering our response. It forces us to pause and have patience.

 The word “respect” came up often as well. If there is mutual respect for each other accepting criticism, much like if there is trust between co-workers, it all becomes easier to accept.

However, this takes time. It doesn't happen overnight. It comes with years of experience and it takes focused work. It takes the courage to share each other's perspectives. Not to argue about who said what, but to engage in conversation where we really share by using phrases like “I feel” and “I believe.” To get real with each other and explain how the way the message was delivered was hurtful, and why it was hurtful.

If more open and honest conversations like this happened in the work place, we would have that much more time to focus on what we all are here to do: make our residents' experience outstanding. Instead, too often egos, titles and power struggles get in the way. If we checked all that at the door, our work experience would be more enjoyable and rewarding for all.

Finally, a teammate reminded me of habit 5 of Stephen Covey's “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Seeking first to understand, then to be understood, is a habit that if practiced, often many of the hurt feelings would go away. If we truly understood where people were coming from, if we understood, then maybe, just maybe, we would in turn feel heard and understood rather than hurt.

Julie Thorson's “Living Leadership” blog was named the 2016 “Best New Department” Bronze Award winner by the American Society of Health Publication Editors. The president and CEO of Friendship Haven, a continuing care retirement community in Fort Dodge, IA, that earned the Governor's Award for Quality under her in 2014, Thorson is a coach's daughter at heart. She is a former part-time nursing home social worker who quickly ascended the leadership ranks. Now a licensed nursing home administrator, she has been a participant in LeadingAge's Leadership Academy and was LeadingAge Iowa's Mentor of the Year. 

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