Dealing with Difficult People & Egos
One of the biggest faux pas I have seen in efforts toward organizational development is when the burden of improvement is placed solely upon the organization itself. While spreadsheets and charts are the output of the agency, at the end of the day, their success has little to do with the company, customers or trends and everything to do with the very people at the organization’s core.
Much of my approach to organizational development is taken from my experience in marriage counseling. For instance, every husband knows that he can inflate his ego, stand on ceremony and try to be right. Or, he can be happy! While being confident is a wonderful quality, having an overinflated ego only stands to hurt people. The same marriage principle holds true for organizations.
When ego gets in the way of a healthy work dynamic, nobody wins. It breeds a culture of mistrust and fear, which ultimately deteriorates morale and productivity. Nevertheless, for a number of reasons, there are some people who expect credit, respect and deference. They cannot be removed from the equation, nor will their nature quickly change.
How, then, can the organization be improved under these circumstances?
The way I strive to navigate this terrain is to facilitate progress on two fronts. Firstly, it is working directly with the egoist. In a therapeutic fashion, I explore the personal (not professional) goals of this individual. By helping to present them with a key focus on who they are and what fulfills them, it becomes a new lens with which they operate. Thus, without noticing it, it diffuses much of their tension, ego or insecurity which previously drove them. With a new focus, they are able to work on their own personal development and find fulfillment in their natural work environment and see others, not as a threat, but as part of a support-network. I have found that as a result of this one change, others around them are less likely to be the targets of their barbs and the culture becomes one of greater respect, focus and productivity.
The second approach is to facilitate a series of group conversations, where I am able to create a safe environment for people to exchange ideas and share how they feel. Ultimately, since I am not an employee of theirs and have nothing to lose, I can say the very things that they are afraid to. I am in a position to hold up a mirror to them and help them see how their previous dynamic could be harmful. Through this process, instead of people hiding behind niceties and preventing progress, an honest and mature conversation can be had. Just like in my work with couples, this dynamic helps to promote a sense of vulnerability. At first it feels raw and uncomfortable and makes people defensive. However, as people open up and start to communicate in a more “real” way with one another, the tensions dissipate, and humility and respect become the foundation for the relationships. It is specifically in a culture of mutual-respect and humility that any relationship – personal, professional or marital can thrive. In this case, while colleagues will now enjoy a more peaceful environment, the primary beneficiary of this change will be the organization as a whole.
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