Working Through Avoidance

Over time I have found honesty to be feared. I am generally a passionate individual. Most of the feedback I get is positive. My direct reports are always very kind during reviews, and my peers have also been very kind. However, one piece of feedback tends to come up during mid-year and end of the year review.

It would be a good idea to consider your tact when talking with other people. Sometimes you can come off a little intense, and that behavior has an affect on your approachability.

I love this stuff. When discussing my performance with my peers I love constructive feedback. But of course I ask a million questions.

  1. Great, is there anyone I upset? Should apologize?
  2. I can come up with some examples where I could have done a better job. This was how I felt, what would you do?
  3. What are there tools that I might be able to use to help gauge my intensity?
  4. Do I seem like a scary person?

I Say What is on my Mind

When I sense something is wrong, I say so. When I think something is great, I say so. A while back I was introduced to the Agile management pattern. In Agile we are all colleagues - a flat system of leaders and reports. I do not treat my manager any differently than I treat anyone else. I do have different expectations for my peers. I need coaching and clear pathways for improvement.

But Some Folks Tend to Avoid Me

I am not sure why, but some of my peers would rather speak to one of my reports rather than speaking with me directly. They have not fired me, so the reason cannot be that bad. But it may be one of these reasons:

  1. They do not have the confidence in my abilities.
  2. They are avoiding a potential conflict with me.

I think to myself,

But if they just spoke to me, they would understand I am not being mean, I am just being honest.

I have a tipping point. The point in which you know you are no longer getting anywhere in a conversation and it is time to back off and do what it takes to move through to the next part of the conversation. I throw my hands up in the air, but I am not giving up. If I am not getting through it is because either I am missing an important detail that I have overlooked, or I am not explaining things clearly enough. As we move forward in our work I seek out ways to add clarity to how I communicate. I will not chase someone around to argue with them, but if we have the opportunity to discuss things another time I will try to be more clear on the points I may have not originally been clear or suss out a simple misunderstanding.

Lets Say It is my Skills and Professionalism

If there is a lack in my ability to deliver something or handle a conversation I would expect my peers to say so. That has not happened outside of the bit of feedback I mentioned earlier. My peers continue to give me more projects, more teams more reports. These patterns are not conducive of someone who is under performing.

My worst fear is I am being lead to believe something that is untrue.

Are we Avoiding Potential Conflict?

I am so lucky. I am so lucky to be able to work with such talented, well rounded professionals that are passionate about their product and want to see it succeed.

I can't help but to notice certain meetings happening and I am not included. Is this on purpose? Internally I have started to shrug this off but it has real implications. If I am being avoided it may be because I am saying things they don't want to hear, or my delivery is just that bad. I wonder if they knew they could tell me:

You know, I really don't appreciate your tone.

or

I would appreciate it if you would be less personal when explaining something.

or simply

You need to calm down sir.

If it comes down to it, call human resources and have them explain it to me. People need to work together to get things done and achieve their goals. In this example, when an individual is not a fit it needs to be addressed.

We care about the work we do, and yes it sometimes hurts when someone gives us criticism, but avoiding criticism is avoiding potential for development. And if we are treating each other as equals than the conversations should always be respectful. Never personal, always about the subject matter that you are facing down as a team.

Are You Avoiding Someone?

Is there someone in the office that is simply too difficult? Are you afraid of what they are going to say to you if you simply say "good morning"? Is this someone a professional you report to?

The most successful teams are built around trust. Trust has to come from the ground up. That means at each level of a team, there needs to be a level of mutual respect and professionalism. If trust is an issue for your team it may be time to apply some coaching to your colleagues and to your manager.

There is no better time to start talking about things than when you are having a difficult time talking about things.

Overcoming Avoidance

What are you avoiding?

We may have to think hard about this one because it could be an issue with an individuals empathy. Perhaps the individual you are avoiding is physically demanding in appearance. But the goal of this exercise is to really consider what our personal issues are with communicating with this individual.

A great question to ask yourself is:

If tomorrow this person could change one thing to help us improve our relationship what would it be?

When considering your reasons, work on a plan of action that addresses those points. Begin to prepare yourself mentally with the intent that you are going to have a calm conversation with this person. Make sure to focus on just the reasons you are avoiding the individual. You want the meetings you have to be focused on figuring out how you will work through this challenge together.

Have meetings and share feedback

As I mentioned earlier, feedback is critical to development. If we avoid getting feedback we miss opportunities for development. If we do not provide feedback we deny those around us opportunities to better their lives.

Give professional feedback that is non personal. Show empathy for the person you are speaking with. Are they your manager? Be clear with them that the feedback is not meant to be personal, but it will help you in your day to day if this person just understood what it was that could be improved.

Both parties in a feedback session need to be open minded. I have found that being respectful, apply praise where needed and keeping an even tone helps me get the message across and the individual on the same level as me.

Think of people like piggy banks and the feedback you give them are the coins. Positive feedback adds coins, negative or adjusting feedback withdraws them. If you have not deposited any coins, there is no budget for adjustment or negative feedback.

Be goal oriented in your meetings. Do not let the conversation meander into other topics. Even if during the conversation you start to feel a little lost, or if you your points have been minimized, keep your goals of the conversation intact. Think back to what your needs are from this person in order for you to be successful together.

If timing is something that is hard to come by I would suggest researching speed coaching.

Working on personal issues

Meetings sound simple enough, but we avoid people for various reasons anxiety, stress and/or procrastination. These are emotions and chemical reactions that could block us from addressing real issues in our lives.

If you are like me than you have issues with anxiety, but if you avoid working on the topics that nag at you then you will always have that stress and fear when those topics come up. If anything I would encourage you to find ways of tolerating the stress, anxiety and finding the courage to work through procrastination. Believe me, when you come out on the other side you will feel a whole lot better. Better yet, you will be actively moving through road blocks in your life and finding success in places you wish you had before.

Build Coaching Skills

Developing myself as a coach has been the most rewarding set of management skills I have developed. It allows me to shape things around me. Coaching helps people achieve their goals which in turn helps the company achieve theirs. There are a lot of great books about coaching, one that I always recommend to my colleagues is The Tao of Coaching.

Are you Someone that is Being Avoided?

Being avoided may be scary. Some thoughts that come up in my mind are:

  • Am I under performing?
  • Do they have a personal problem with me?
  • Am I getting fired?

These thoughts have massive implications on how you reflect on your career and time to next burn out. Self doubt creeps in, you question your skills and your ability to deliver. Being avoided can be just as destructive as avoiding someone.

As someone that can be avoided from time to time, I really appreciate it when someone pulls me aside and gives me feedback. A lot of times it comes down to myself and the other individual building a relationship of understanding. They know that I am focused on the goals of my colleagues and the company, once that is clear - roadblocks are removed and an effective working relationship is born.

Thoughts on Overcoming being Avoided

Consider your demeanor

People of power, managers, are traditionally avoided by others. This is fair, because those around you feel sensitive to their employment and careers. Your personal thoughts on that individual could determine whether or not they work there, or if they get promoted.

Are you taller than most people? Do you appear intimidating? These are important things to think about.

Are you an expressive person? Do you get excited and share your thoughts openly without reserve?

Do you get really close to others when you talk?

Do the things you say tend to throw others under the bus?

Is it easy for you to be snippy with others? Are you comfortable with being angry?

Overcoming the physical

Back when I was teaching Karate, I had to work with children on their self discipline, self control and development as martial artists. I am over six feet tall, to an eight year old I am a giant. An eight year old has to be comfortable with me teaching them and giving them feedback and not run out of the room frightened that I am going to physically harm them. My instructor at the time gave me great coaching to help reduce this effect. She told me:

When you address a new student, especially a child, it is important to physically get down to their level.

In this case it meant that I take a knee and high five little Bobby. Coming down to eye level and introducing myself was an ice breaker for an Educator / Learner relationship. In this example I could overcome being intimidating by making myself smaller to my audience. If my tone of voice is a little lighter and I smile a bit people open up and respond instead of retreating and avoiding.

Have a colleague call you out in front of everyone

I had a teammate share with me that some of our colleagues had a hard time considering coming to me with things. I told them not to tell me who it was and to allow me the privilege to make it up to them and openly squash this issue. Later that week I had asked our Product Owner to call me out on my approachability in our Sprint planning. During that planning meeting we had a check in session where we air out things that are happening that we would like to have improved to help us work more effectively. My colleague the Product Owner shared with the group:

John, I would like to talk about your approachability with the team. I am having a hard time feeling comfortable discussing things with you.

I was excited to be given the opportunity to let the team air out their grievances. Let me have it! Give me the feedback I need to make myself more approachable. Most of all give my colleagues a piece of mind that grumpy John is not going to give them a hard time and I was okay with getting feedback even if it meant embarrassing me.

I took the opportunity to ask the team:

That is completely fair, I would like to apologize for any grievance my behavior has caused. It is important for us to be able to work as a team. What are some things I can change about my management style that would help us work better together as a team?

I was a little surprised at the lack of feedback that came from the session, but I dug as much as I could, I even gave suggestions on things I felt I could improve on. My suggestions yielded some head nodding and a few smiles but eventually we moved on. The goal of that session was to put myself in a worst case scenario with my reports. To show them that it was okay to speak aloud about giving feedback, as long as it was done in a professional manner and with respect.

Another goal was to let the team know that I promise to maintain an open mind to the things they have to say.

Have regular optional meetings

Relationships with individuals are forged over time and experience. Rarely do relationships develop on the spot. Relationship maintenance can be as simple as a check in once every other week. The session may run 15 minutes to a couple of hours. Perhaps a talk over a beer, or whiskey. Grab lunch or challenge a colleague to a game of ping pong. Sometimes when we lose touch with someone we stop talking to each other altogether. As a manager this can be very important because you may not always have a chance to meet with everyone for long periods of time. By making time for everyone every once in awhile it may reduce the amount of rifts that develop between you and those you work with.

Its Tough

How do we say the things that need to be said without getting in our own way? It seems like so much extra work just to get at the things that are the most important. But being human with one another is important and we have to keep in mind that each of us come from different backgrounds and experience. We have different strengths and weaknesses. We need to encourage each other to overcome our weaknesses, compliment each other to create stronger teams.

Take a risk, everyone has something to teach you.

John Masse

About John Masse

Full Stack Javascript Developer. Director of WebUX for Priceline.com. Engineer for apps like Classmate.io and Slooh.com.

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