There's been an interesting theme running through some of my client sessions lately. It spotlights a problem that sometimes prevents entrepreneurs from discussing potentially sensitive issues with others. We all know that entrepreneurs need to have tough conversations from time-to-time, with employees, clients, partners, investors--and the list goes on. Avoiding such discussions will slow, or even halt, the growth of an organization.
With my client's gracious permission, I've chosen the following example to demonstrate.
Joe was completely avoiding an important discussion with his team lead. This employee, while passively reminded by Joe more than once, was not tracking client results. This task is critical to their reporting system, thus, client retention. Although it's a function of their software system, therefore not difficult to add, this key information was consistently missing from the client dashboard. The employee was otherwise doing a good job.
As Joe and I pursued our discussion about his avoidance, he made statements like: "I would be mortified if my boss criticized my work like that." And, "He'll probably get angry and walk out on me, I can't take that risk."
What makes this interesting is that, in the past, Joe had mentioned some of his upsetting experiences with short-sighted, arrogant bosses. He had often fantasized about walking off the job. Eventually, these experiences led to his entrepreneurial career, fulfilling the dream of becoming his own boss. He did everything within his power to be the kind of boss he would have appreciated during his corporate career, but sometimes overcompensating.
Joe's anticipation of his employee's negative reaction is related to a common behavior called, psychological projection. Joe had suffered several extremely distressing employer/employee experiences and was projecting his own feelings on to his employee. In reality, he had absolutely no way of predicting his employee's reaction to a discussion that hadn't even taken place yet.
What's equally important is that Joe was subconsciously depriving himself of an opportunity to address the issues responsible for his anxiety and current behavior. Resolving the internal issue would benefit, not only Joe but also his business.
We don't all share the same perspective.
We don't all act, think, feel, and reason the same. What a boring world it would be if we did! We have varying personality types, but what's more significant is that we each have a different perspective on life. Our individual perspective is greatly shaped by our life experiences, all of which are obviously different. It's this uniqueness that offers different points of view, feelings, and actions. It's almost like fingerprints. While there may be great similarities, we each have our own exclusive set!
Observe your own behavior rather than predicting another's.
While I am not a psychologist, it's my experience that recognizing the behavior in one's self is the first step. I asked my client how and why he was projecting a negative response from his employee. Naturally, he did not have an answer--except that it is how he would act and feel in a similar situation.
I then asked if he could accurately predict some else's future behavior.
"No, of course not."
Finally, I asked if it's possible that he's making these assumptions based on his own strong emotions, those derived from past experiences.
"Yes, that's entirely possible. It's strongly probable."
Your discomfort in any given situation creates a tone and attitude that others pick up on. Your feelings trigger your defense mechanism and will determine the words you choose, and the tone in which you say them. Can you see how it could possibly turn a simple conversation into a contentious debate or argument? By transferring your feelings to others, you may just get the outcome you most fear, causing a potentially harmful result for your business. Allow others the space to discover their own feelings, it's not productive to impose your feelings upon another.
Resolve your old feelings.
After working with me to resolve some of his old feelings, my client finally had a discussion with his team lead. He was able to approach the situation with an open mind, and with curiosity rather than judgment. Turns out that the employee had taken the hint about documentation from earlier, very subtle mentions of the issue. While yes, he had once avoided tracking, he was currently performing the task and had been for some time. The problem was in the software, not employee error. The team member was grateful that the error had been discovered.
If you believe that you may be stuck in a loop of psychological projection, save yourself a lifetime of inaccurate assumptions, stress, and anxiety. Accept your feelings as your own and approach others with the same open mind and curious attitude that Joe took. In truly uncomfortable cases, simply demonstrate empathy and listen more than you talk. While your subject matter may be sensitive, the outcome is unpredictable. Odds are that everything will work out in a way that's beneficial to all concerned.
It may be wise to work with a coach or, if this is a long-standing habit, engage a therapist to help resolve the old patterns. As you evolve past this problem you will definitely see a positive change in your life and business.