How a leader remains neutral!
What I have learnt, as a human being over the past three-ish decades, is there is a time to be positive and look for lessons and there is a time to vent, let everything out and simply allow yourself to wallow in self-pity. As a leader it’s really important to recognise the benefits for both and how to respond while still remaining neutral.
Let’s first look at the need to vent!
Venting is generally required when one of your core values has been compromised. Perhaps someone has said something that violates your belief around respect or done something that conflicts with how you define and measure trust. Because your values are deeply unconscious you won’t necessarily recognise that they’ve been compromised. What you will notice is the all-body reaction that takes place. Your face may go red, your muscles may tense and your heart rate may increase – your feathers will be ‘ruffled’. When this happens your ability to process thoughts rationally and objectively are greatly reduced and your reaction is likely to be highly emotional. This is not the time to take action, to work things out or to prove any point. What you need is to vent!
The benefit of venting when your emotions (anger, sadness, fear, hurt or guilt) are high is you can get them out, you release them – like steam blowing out of a boiling kettle, like releasing a valve when the pressure is too high. When you don’t let it out you risk allowing things to fester. Bottling up emotions and thoughts which will continue to bubble away under the surface until, a time you’ll least expect, you’ll explode…and there will be no going back. So venting isn’t a bad option!
The challenge with venting comes with the person on the receiving end. Most people we vent to have no idea how they should behave.
When you’re needing to vent, the last thing you want to be asked is “what do you think you could have done differently!” Or “how might you handle this next time?”. You don’t want the problem to be solved, you don’t want advice on what you should do next and you certainly don’t want someone to take sides with you. All you want is someone to listen, quietly but attentively.
Often the person at the receiving end of a ‘vent’ is a leader, so, I’ve put together some simple steps you should take that will allow the other person to achieve the release they need and for you to remain neutral throughout the process. Here’s what to do:
- Ask the person if they are in fact ‘venting’. “Are you wanting to vent right now?” (If it’s not a vent then follow the positive process)
- Take them to a space that is private and discreet. This could be a meeting room or outside for a walk.
- Let the other person speak, without saying a word until they have finished. Allow a few seconds of silence to make sure there’s nothing left.
- Ask the person “how do you feel?” Or “are you done?”
- Say “ok, good, let’s chat tomorrow”.
- End the conversation.
That’s it! You don’t need to ask questions and you definitely don’t need to give opinions or do anything to engage in the discussion. Doing this may validate the irrational thoughts and feelings the person may have at the time and lead to longer term resentment, a break in trust of the erosion of confidence in you as a leader.
If the person who is venting asks for your opinion or advice your response will simply be “let’s talk about it tomorrow once you’ve slept on it”. Be prepared to stand your ground with those who insist you engage.
Now let’s look at the need to be positive!
This is where the emotions are no longer overriding rational thoughts. There may still be some residual frustration but the person is generally in control of their thoughts and feelings. They may be coming to you to seek clarity or find a solution and a way to move forward. Or they may be looking for someone to validate and reinforce their perspective so that it can become a reality and an opportunity to allocate blame, or avoid responsibility.
In these instances here’s what to do:
- Ask what happened, from their perspective. Let them tell you their version of the story without interruption.
- Ask them what happened, from the other persons perspective. Challenge them to consider possible alternatives and to think about what their positive intention may have been.
- Ask what they are in control of.
- Ask how they might deal with this kind of situation in the future. Brainstorm a list of actions.
- Ask what they could do now, to improve the situation, clarify any misunderstandings and take responsibility for the role they may have played.
- Ask if they need any support from you in making the change.
Remember that when someone is ‘venting’ your role is to listen and remain neutral, nothing more, nothing less. When someone is wanting you to reinforce a belief your role is to challenge their perspective and take control of the part they played. It is about enabling your people to focus on what they can control, to grow and learn, not point fingers and blame.
If you can get this right in your team then you are headed towards a dynamic culture.
Need help? Give me a call!
Shelley Flett is a passionate leader with a keen focus on creating efficient and sustainable team environments through adaptable leadership.She is a Leadership Coach, Trainer, Facilitator, Mentor and Speaker who ignites vision and purpose in those she works with.
If you’d like to know more about her latest programs, please drop her an email email@example.com.