How to Keep Calm and Carry On When You Feel Ignored

(This is the last part of the 3-part “Manager’s Series” by our friend, time coach, and productivity expert Elizabeth Grace Saunders.)

When you’ve tried so hard to address team members’ emotional hurdles to accepting change and walked them through how to apply the change to their work situation, your blood can start boiling when you still don’t see the desired results. “How could they be do disrespectful?” you seethe. “Do they even notice? Do they even care?”

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Before you stomp over to people to tell them exactly how you feel about their impertinence, step back and take a deep breath … and one more.

As a time coach and trainer and the author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment, my specialty is in working with people who really struggle with getting in control of their time and their routines. I can assure you that unless they’re natural rebels, people generally want to do what you’ve asked but they just haven’t mastered it yet.

While some people need only one telling to master a task or respond to a request, others need multiple. This can make you crazy if you let it, as you’ll need to keep at it for awhile. You can’t control others’ speed of integration of change, but you can control your emotional response to situations and your method of communication.

My book leads you through different types of accountability and discusses how to reduce time-caused drama—including tips for recovery. To help you with your resilience and patience in the midst of implementing team-wide change (or lack thereof) — using the example of getting reluctant team-members to use a new work tool like iDoneThis — here are five steps you can apply:

Step 1:   Recognize and Validate Your Feelings.

Before you can work through something effectively with someone else, figure out what’s going on inside of yourself. People tap into their emotions in different ways. Some sort out their thoughts best when they exercise. Other individuals talk to a trusted adviser or need to write out their thoughts to discover what is happening. Regardless of exactly what you do, move from your current physical position in some way. Switching your bodies’ state can dramatically shift your mental state.

Once you find yourself in a different place, or at least a different posture, figure out the answer to these questions. You may discover them in this order or in a different one. The order doesn’t matter, but the discovery of all four does:

  • What was my interpretation of what just happened? For example: Do I think this person is deliberately ignoring me or that he just forgot?
  • What emotions did that trigger? For example: Anger, frustration, guilt, resignation.
  • Who am I blaming? For example: Am I blaming myself for not doing a better job of explaining the change or for not being more firm? Am I blaming the other person for not following through?
  • What would be the most constructive next step? For example: Talk through the change at our next group meeting, bring it up in a one-on-one, let this slide and see what happens next time.

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Step 2:   Suspend Judgment.

You have a right to feel how you feel, but you don’t have a right to judge, especially before you understand the total picture. Start by validating your emotions because denying them will keep you from coming up with real solutions and cause them to pop up at inopportune times. But the second step of a mature leader involves disengaging from your emotions enough to handle the situation in an effective fashion.

Instead of stomping over to someone’s desk for a dressing-down, or mulling how to deliver the perfect managerial monologue, put the wheels in motion for the most constructive next step. Fanning the flames of self-justification may feel good in the short-term but doesn’t benefit your team in the long term.

Start with the assumption that there must be a good reason that a team member didn’t follow through on the change, and then focus your energies on figuring out the best ways to uncover those reasons.

Step 3:   Ask Questions.

Before you start doling out punishments or even suggesting solutions, stop and listen to the other person explain the situation. You could ask a question like: “I noticed you haven’t been replying to your iDoneThis e-mails. Could you explain to me what happened?”

What you hear may surprise you and also calm you. For example, you may discover that long hours kept a team member busy at work until 10 p.m. so that the 6 p.m. reminder e-mail was no longer visible with a quick inbox scan. Or you may find that the reminder was being sent to a spam folder. Or you may uncover that more than a reminder e-mail is necessary to prompt action.

Employing the principle from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that you should seek first to understand and then be understood, you can now explain your side. It’s important that you state facts as facts, and interpretation as your perception. For example:

“When you didn’t reply to iDoneThis this week after I made a specific request last Friday at our staff meeting that it be updated, it made me think you weren’t respecting what I said. Now that I understand your side of the situation, let’s look at solutions.”

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Step 4:   Work Together on a Solution.

Instead of focusing on the problem, focus on solutions. A collaborative approach to problem-solving can benefit both sides because the person having the difficulty may not have the ability to recognize what’s causing the problem. Also, you may not know the right solution until you talk through the options. What works well for one person may not work at all for another.

The best way to navigate this discussion is to go through the list of issues and then brainstorm solutions together. For example:

  • Manager:  It seems that you sometimes forget to check your e-mail at the end of the day. Then you don’t see the iDoneThis reminder, correct?
  • Team Member:  Yes, that’s correct.
  • Manager:  Could you put a pop-up reminder in your calendar or stick a note beside your door that says, “Did you remember iDoneThis?”
  • Team Member:  I really don’t like pop-ups, and I’m not much of a paper person, but I think it could work well to have an alarm go off on my phone as a reminder.
  • Manager:  That sounds reasonable. You know what? You can use the iDoneThis app to get a reminder and reply on your phone. Let’s plan on you setting one of those options up today.

Step 5:   Define Follow-Up.

Once you’ve talked through a solution, define in writing how and when you will follow up and the acceptable minimum of results. Also, agree on consequences for lack of follow-through based on the negative impact it makes on the team.

For example:

“Everyone loses out when you don’t update us on your work. I’ll expect that you’ll update iDoneThis at least four times this week, and I’ll check in with you during our weekly one-on-one session. I’ve been using these reports as the basis for our team meetings. It’ll be embarrassing and a waste of time to have you stand up in front of everyone to update us on what you’ve been working on.”

Keep your word to follow up, congratulate progress, refine solutions, and uphold consequences until you’ve achieved consistency. In the process, stay calm.

It takes time for people to change. You can’t control others but you can dictate your emotional response to a situation.

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Images: [1] Anna Yanev Photography; [2] striatic; [3] Thompson Rivers.