Emma has someone on her team who is perpetually late with her paperwork. It doesn’t matter how often Emma talks to this person; it never seems to change.
When I was coaching Emma, I reminded her that she could keep having supervision discussions with this team member addressing the late paperwork. That approach will likely cause friction.
The challenge is that in Emma’s mind, there is a right way to do things — handing things in on time. As a result, Emma also believes that this employee is doing things the wrong way — submitting items late.
This kind of thinking leaves the employee only able to defend themselves, making excuses about why they’re not measuring up and offering promises they’ll never keep.
So the cycle continues.
It’s often called polarized thinking. We see things one way, all or nothing, black or white, but no grey.
Emma’s learning new ways of leading
But what if Emma was able to get off her side (I’m right) and invite her employee to leave their side as well (You’re wrong) and meet on common ground?
I asked Emma to think about how they could explore things differently. Rather than discussing what’s wrong or right, she could get curious.
Here’s what Emma came up with:
Old way: Your paperwork continues to be late, and that’s a problem. What plan can we make to get your paperwork in on time?
Here’s the thing, one can assume the employee wants to do their best work. When we start with that assumption that they mean no harm, instead of convincing them they’re doing things wrong, it changes the conversation’s tone.
Here are some other variations of polarized thining
I hear polarized thoughts when it becomes me versus you or us versus them. For example:
What leaders, teams and boards think in a polarized way:
***** Find the middle ground.
Engaged teams find ways to move forward together. They are open to innovative ideas, curiosity, a willingness to ask questions, and a deep desire to understand each other.
But you can’t get there when you can’t get off your side, and they will not get off their side.
Three ways to overcome polarized thinking
To overcome polarized thinking, use The Inner Guidance Cycle I teach in Mastering Confidence: Discover your leadership potential by awakening your inner guidance system
Create space so you can think.
Ask yourself: What are the “sides” here?
Ask yourself: How do these views (my side their side) connect to each of our values and the organization’s values?
Courageously re-engage in the conversation with a more open viewpoint and a willingness to find common ground.
If you are looking for more help, and are a member of The Training Library, make sure you go through the TIPS plans I teach you in the Webinar: How to prepare for a tough talk.
You may also find that reviewing your values from the Values Verification course may support your identification of sides.
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Women leaders often hit a point where they find themselves in over their heads and wondering if they have what it takes to lead.