Strange meetings with Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: you’re in a meeting where a higher-up is present, and – for no apparent reason – someone you usually get along with transforms from Dr Jekyll into Mr Hyde. Here’s what’s going on, and how to deal with it.
Insecurity and inconsistency were sitting in a tree
Although some people are just more comfortable in one-on-one situations, there are usually other reasons in play when somebody suddenly makes a behavioural about-face in a meeting, most of which can be traced back to the two main issues of insecurity and inconsistency.
A frequent issue is that of ‘turf’, in where someone feels as if though they have to display strength in their position, whether towards a leader or the group in general, and starts being difficult for no apparent reason. This someone is most likely feeling as if he’s being exposed for a weakness of some sort, and as such fails on two counts: preparing sufficiently to avoid being caught unawares, and realizing that refusing to fess up will lead to loss of respect – whereas professional admittance at the very least should maintain the balance.
The best thing to do in such a situation is to avoid pressing the issue unless absolutely necessary, and rather seek to handle the matter directly in such a way that the culprit avoids losing face. Naturally, if this is a repeat offense, and going over their head (which is to be a last resort) doesn’t work, you may have to force the issue. If you do, make certain that the attending parties are briefed and prepared (including the offender); that personal issues don’t surface; that matters are put to a vote if there is a disagreement; and that meeting minutes are guaranteed to arrive in a timely manner.
Next up? Inconsistency.
Although not completely unrelated to insecurity, inconsistency is in many ways a beast of its own. The world is chock-a-block with leaders who either shouldn’t be leaders in the first place, or have received insufficient training, which often manifests itself in transmogrifications of the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde variety. They’ll have no problem working with you one-on-one, but when push comes to shove and they’re being pressed on deliverables, they resort to fear and intimidation as their chosen method of leadership – perhaps even throwing in a little FUD in a meeting while they’re at it. In short, they either don’t know or don’t dare to accept the truth, and become inconsistent as a consequence.
It doesn’t take Einstein to realize that doesn’t work well in the long run.
Of course, it could also be that their arse is on the line if someone fails to deliver, at which point in time they have to point the finger at someone – perhaps even you. Those are the worst kinds of leaders, and the sort that are guaranteed to never propel themselves beyond middle management.
In failing to recognize the reality of a situation, they’re often afraid to admit that they’re not up to the task, or that they need help – as if either were anything to be ashamed of. If something is beyond their current level of experience or the workload is too high, the right kind of leader takes action to remedy the situation by any means necessary. The alternative is uncomfortable, both for the person in regard and ultimately their subordinates.
To deal with such situations is every bit as uncomfortable as you might suspect, and requires clear communications and a certain amount of grace. Approach the person you have an issue with, and say that there’s an issue you’d like to discuss when they have 30 minutes available, thereby empowering them by letting them choose the date and time on “their” terms. If they’d like to know what it’s about, just say you have some suggestions for improvement you’d like to discuss.
Then, when you sit down together, start by telling him or her that you feel as if the two of you are out of step in certain meetings, and that you believe working more closely together will improve your chances of making progress in your common areas of interest. Lay out the points where you disagree, and sell the person on the idea of meeting separately to prepare a joint stance on issues prior to group meetings, arguing that it’ll save you a lot of time and effort. Besides, you feel as if though these matters are best discussed with them.
At the very least, you’ll end up with the person in regard being unable to squirm away from what you’ve agreed upon is the truth or making an about-face in a group meeting. At the very best, you’ll transform your relationship as well as gain an opportunity to learn how a person in such a position thinks, creating progress for the both of you (being the bigger man does have it rewards, every now and then).
Lastly; the behavioural patterns described above don’t necessarily have to take place in meetings – they’re evident elsewhere, too: e-mails, lunch discussions, social gatherings and more. Be alert of them, and you’ll be able to turn such situations to your advantage, or at the very least lessen the amount of damage being done.