42. Overcoming Defensiveness in Feedback + Duo Creates Drama at Work

Episode 42: Overcoming Defensiveness in Feedback + Duo Creates Drama at Work (Summary)

There is sound psychology behind why people react to corrective feedback defensively. We’ll get into why that’s normal and some strategies to roll away from resistance during those conversations. Plus, when co-dependent colleagues create drama at work. We’re starting right now, on Boss Better Now.

Links:
To learn more about Joe Mull, visit his website ​Joemull.com​.
To hear more from Joe Mull visit his YouTube channel​.
To learn how to invite Joe to speak at an event, visit ​Joemull.com/speaking​.
To check date availability or to get a quote for an event, email ​hello@joemull.com​.
To explore options for coaching from Alyssa Mullet, visit ​Joemull.com/coaching​.
For more information on the BossBetter Leadership Academy, visit Joemull.com/academy.
Email the show at bossbetternow@gmail.com.
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Transcript – Episode 42: Overcoming Defensiveness in Feedback + Duo Creates Drama at Work

Joe:
There is sound psychology behind why people react to corrective feedback defensively. We’ll get into why that’s normal and some strategies to roll away from resistance during these conversations. Plus, when codependent colleagues create drama at work. We’re starting right now on Boss Better Now.

Alyssa:
You’re listening to Boss Better Now. Please welcome speaker, author, and someone who prefers his can of soda poured over a glass of ice, Joe Mull.

Joe:
Because it’s better! Welcome back BossHeroes to your weekly dose of advice, humor, and encouragement. We are thrilled you’re joining us. Perhaps you’re working out, driving in your car, listening at work, or taking a walk. Perhaps you said, “Hey, Alexa, play Boss Better Now with Joe Mull.” However, you found us, or wherever you are listening, thank you for doing so. Please welcome my co-host, professional coach extraordinaire, Alyssa Mullet.

Alyssa:
Hiya! Ice is overrated. Yeah. I, I can’t do….Soda in, well, first of all, let’s address the elephant in the room: soda versus pop. I think we’ve had this discussion once before. I think that’s the soda thing is, is regional, right? That’s because of where we live.

Joe:
Pop.

Alyssa:
Versus pop?

Joe:
Pop is regional. Yes.

Alyssa:
Ok. Pop is regional.

Joe:
There are pockets of people who prefer pop. That was a lot of alliteration. There are pockets of people who prefer pop as the, as the label. But my understanding is that the bulk of the population refers to it as soda. There are some places where if you say, uh, I want a pop, they’re going to be like, “What?”

Alyssa:
What do you want?

Joe:
What do you want? What’s that? Also, your statement about ice is wrong. Ice is not overrated.

Alyssa:
I will only contend that it is all right. Okay. If you say…no, because you said can of soda.

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
So, if you were talking about no, I’m drinking it right out of the can. Okay. But if you’re talking about going to go through one of them, lovely drive-through establishments.

Joe:
Yes.

Alyssa:
that we all go through, right?

Joe:
Yes.

Alyssa:
And get a drink with your meal.

Joe:
A fountain drink with a cup of ice.

Alyssa:
Yes. Then I can absolutely go for the ice in my Dr. Pepper.

Joe:
Interesting.

Alyssa:
It’s gotta be a Dr. Pepper. Yeah.

Joe:
So, if you were at home, you’re grabbing the can.

Alyssa:
Yes.

Joe:
and eliminating the middleman.

Alyssa:
Correct.

Joe:
But if you’re given a choice between a can of Dr. Pepper or Dr. Pepper from the drive-through with ice in it,

Alyssa:
Yeah.

Joe:
that’s better. Is that what you’re saying?

Alyssa:
I don’t know if it’s better, it’s just, I will deal with it

Joe:
I mean, it is, you should just agree with me and then we’ll rest our case. I mean, come on.

Alyssa:
Sometimes I don’t have it in me to fight you.

Joe:
Let me give you a 10-minute scientific presentation for why I’m right. By the way, this is exactly what it’s like to be married to me. I’m sorry, Jess. Um,

Alyssa:
Me too, Jess.

Joe:
You know what, my whole thing is about cold. I like my beverages as cold as possible. As soon as they start to warm up just a touch, I’m a lot less interested. I can’t drink tepid water. Um, I need ice for days, but I can drink a ton of water if it’s like…I want to damage the roof of my mouth. That’s how cold it is.

Alyssa:
You want to feel it going down.

Joe:
So that’s why when I grab the can of soda…I want to feel it in my teeth. Yes. Um, I grab the can of soda. I have to pour it over a cup of ice because then it stays cold from start to finish. It also tastes better, in my estimation. The can just like the first, the first sip of, out of the can is great. And then every other sip after that is not as good as the first one, because it wasn’t as cold.

Alyssa:
I couldn’t even tell you what the last sip out of the can tastes like, because I can’t get through a whole can.

Joe:
Oh, is that right? You have partial cans sitting around?

Alyssa:
Not sitting around. Cause I rarely I can rarely handle soda.

Joe:
Oh!

Alyssa:
I just…the carbonation and my system feels like it’s on fire. If you added ice to that, to try to extinguish that fire, it would just, it would, it was like fire and ice meeting. It’d be like fireworks constantly going off in my heartburn of an esophagus. It just no.

Joe:
Got it. All right. Well, you are definitely, BossHeroes who are listening, a hero for enduring that five-minute conversation about soda and ice. Thanks for, uh, hanging in there.

Alyssa:
Right?

Joe:
Well, this week, Alyssa, we’re going to talk about overcoming defensiveness and feedback. This is something that we do a lot of training around this and in my business and helping people get better at those kinds of conversations. And we end up spending a lot of time, um, strategizing and learning about the best ways to roll away from resistance and to help folks who are in leadership roles when they have to give someone feedback and they…the response that they get ain’t great. Right? When people get defensive, uh, or there’s resistance. And, and there are a couple of different angles that I thought we could take with this. Is there a particular area where you would like to start?

Alyssa:
Well, I guess I wanted to understand first, like why do you think that some people get so defensive about receiving feedback? What is it innately or what are the constructs under which that kind of behavior explodes?

Joe:
Yeah. Yeah. Well, certainly I think it’s tied to people’s maturity and emotional intelligence. I mean, there are some folks who, when you sit across from them and you give them feedback, they say, ‘thank you.’ They say, ‘Okay, I’ll work on that.’ And you’re like, ‘Oh, that wasn’t as stressful as I thought it was going to be. I wish everybody was like you.’ Um, right. We love those people.

Alyssa:
Yeah, yeah… yeah.

Joe:
Those people are the best people to have like reporting to you. Um, but for the bulk of people, it never feels good to be told you’re not perfect. Um, if anyone has seen my No More Team Drama keynote, or read that book, I talk about some social science research into something called ‘the illusory superiority bias‘, which is that we all tend to overestimate our own capacity capabilities, talents, and skills. One way to think about it is that your brain takes a shortcut, which is to assume that you’re a really good person doing the best you can most of the time. And that’s actually not true. We’re …we are not, uh, always.

Alyssa:
What?!

Joe:
operating at the optimal level and doing the best we can at all times. And so, it, it is human nature, I think, when we hear someone tell us, ‘I need you to do this differently,’ or ‘I need you to do this better,’ or ‘how you handled this wasn’t ideal’. It’s completely normal for the, that person to need a moment to take an inventory of that. Um, and for that first blush, that fast thinking system that our brains operate under, which is kind of that reptilian brain, which is entirely emotional to say, ‘Ooh, I don’t like this. What are you talking about?’ And to want to push back against it. And so, I think, for people listening, anticipate it. It’s predictable. People don’t like hearing that. It’s icky. And know that that doesn’t mean they’re not open to your feedback. It doesn’t make them a bad person. It’s just human nature that we get that response from some folks.

Alyssa:
It’s interesting because I’m kind of like, oh, well, for me, that’s, whenever I can envision the, the dance between the anger and defensiveness and the tears.

Joe:
Uh-huh.

Alyssa:
Cause sometimes the two…again, it’s a collision of emotion.

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
Because you’re talking about the reptilian brain that’s going on in my body. And so sometimes the anger comes out as tears.

Joe:
Yes!

Alyssa:
And I wonder how common that is too. Um, because again, it’s a function of emotional, um, the emotion that is going into that moment and receiving that feedback.

Joe:
And this is why a lot of leaders use, what has been affectionately referred to in recent years as, the shit sandwich. Have you… Forgive my… I feel like I should beep this. Make it PG. But you know what I’m talking about, right? The, you do this one thing really great, and you’re terrible at this, but here’s another thing you do really great, right? You try to sandwich the corrective feedback in between two great things.

Alyssa:
Yeah.

Joe:
And it doesn’t work. We…people…they know what you’re trying to do.

Alyssa:
It tastes like crap.

Joe:
and it feels condescending and it still tastes like crap. That’s exactly right.

Alyssa:
Yes!

Joe:
We’re actually much more effective when we sit across from the person. And we just talk about the thing in the middle. I mean, and it’s, it’s okay if they say, ‘Hey, you do a lot of things. Well, but this is one thing I need you to work on.’ And here’s what it is.

Alyssa:
So, what, what do we do in the, in those circumstances where we’re getting that defensiveness from the person that’s sitting across the…

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
Where we’re getting all of that resistance – what do we do? What can, what can we do? Is there anything we can do?

Joe:
Well, we’ve got to leave a little bit of space for it. That’s what I mean when I say it’s predictable and we know that it’s coming. If we want to go right from here’s the feedback to, um, here’s what I want you to do differently. And why are you resisting me? Like, then that is going to be an uncomfortable conversation. It’s not going to go well. We have to kind of leave a little bit of space for that resistance. And sometimes we can leave space for that by just telling folks, ‘Here are the specific details of what I’m asking you to change. Here’s why I’m asking you to change it.’ And then asking an open-ended question where we say, ‘what are your thoughts?’ And we give people kind of the little bit of time and space to kind of cook on that. But I also brought a clip today, Alyssa, that I’m going to play because I want to get into some of the psychology behind this, uh, and around a specific strategy for rolling away from resistance. Um, many folks listening know that we run a Boss Better Leadership Academy. Uh, we have companies from across the country that subscribe, and every month their managers, all, all the leaders in their organization get a monthly piece of learning content. And sometimes that’s a micro on-demand video from me, a micro-course, some months that’s a longer form, deeper dive workshop. And some months we do these live coaching clinics, which are themed around a topic. And we recently did one of these live coaching clinics with a lot of Q and A with me around overcoming defensiveness in feedback conversations. And so, I’m going to play this clip, it’s only about two minutes, from that coaching clinic that talks about the three beliefs people need to possess all at the same time before they’re going to make any change in the aftermath of your feedback. So here we go, take a listen.

Joe from recording:
What we know is that change doesn’t happen all at once. People move through change in stages, and we have so much limited time today that I’m not going to get into the depths of what the stages of change are. What’s more important for you to understand is that people move through stages of change only when they possess three specific beliefs and hold them all simultaneously. And those three beliefs are as follows first, (by the way, I’m down here in the corner. If you look down to the bottom of your screen). First people must believe there is a benefit to making the change. They get something positive out of it. The second thing people need to believe is that there is a consequence for not changing. There is something difficult or painful at the end of, uh, the path if they, if they continue behaving or acting in the way that they are. And then third, the third belief that people need to hold is the belief that they are capable of the change. And so, in the literature, this is referred to as self-efficacy. People have to believe they can make…that there’s a benefit to making the change, there’s a consequence for not changing, and they have to believe that they are capable of the change. When people hold all of these beliefs simultaneously, there’s a much greater likelihood that they will pursue change. What’s interesting is advertisers know this. If you watch television, I can tell you nearly every commercial you see is focusing on either a consequence, a benefit, or self-efficacy. If you see a commercial for a security system for your home, they show you break-ins, that’s a consequence for not having a security system in your home. If you see a commercial for, um, adult leak, proof undergarments, they always show seniors running and laughing and playing with their grandchildren. Like, ‘look how happy I am because I wear Depends’, right? They’re showing you this wonderful benefit of freedom and, and a better life if you use their product. And if you’ve ever seen a commercial for a Rosetta Stone or Babbel, or some of the language learning software that’s out there, what do they say? You can learn to speak Spanish in minutes a day. It’s all about self-efficacy. The belief that this is easy, and I can do it. So, these are the three beliefs that people need to hold simultaneously in order to move toward behavior change.

Joe:
All right, Alyssa. So, there’s some psychology here, right? That…that’s operating in the background. And if we think about how to overcome defensiveness and resistance in feedback conversations, what we need to tease out in that dialogue are those three beliefs. That, okay, I’m not perfect, but listen, if I maybe move in the direction that my boss is talking about, I’m going to get something positive out of it and I’m going to avoid something negative and they’re not really asking me to do something that’s all that hard. I’m capable of this. Are you familiar at all with, with this model and these three beliefs?

Alyssa:
I was not in this context. And I, I now… I can’t forget it because of all of the illustrations you use, namely, the Depends undergarment one.

Joe:
You’re welcome.

Alyssa:
There’s that imagery. I immediately connected to it though. So, then you did the job there! But this is, this is excellent. Always again, like helping to understand and shape and very tactical terms. Um, and I, I, but I think that the premise, what appeals to me is that we’re leaving the room with the expectation of they’re going to be human. They’re going to react this way and we’re going to allow and not try to judge them for being freaking human.

Joe:
Yes.

Alyssa:
And having this kind of resistance or this defensiveness, because the reality is we have all done it. We all do it in some way or fashion. It, I don’t even know, like at this stage in my life, and I consider myself pretty self-aware and, you know, aggressive in my, uh, ability to tune into what it is I’m doing and how I’m doing it, all of that kind of great stuff. But there is no amount of time where I can think myself of positively receiving and with no judgment whatsoever of myself or the other person when receiving feedback or criticism.

Joe:
Yup. It’s not realistic.

Alyssa:
Yeah. So, this is, this is a great strategy and tactic with the premise of leaving this room for this person to react in this context because that’s human nature.

Joe:
And here’s the, the beautiful other side of that, which is that if you get an objection, if you get resistance BossHeroes, I’m going to let you in on a secret. You don’t always need to address it. You don’t need to debunk it. You don’t need to talk them out of it. We have so many folks who are in feedback conversations and think that the point of them is to convince the person that you’re right or to get them to agree with you. It’s not! The purpose of the conversation is to try to move them, even incrementally, closer to the better version of themselves that you’re trying to coach them toward or give them feedback toward. Right? If you have somebody who’s chronically late, you’re trying to get them to be less late, right? If you have somebody who is having, um, problematic interactions with customers, you don’t need them to agree with you. You don’t need them to be right. You need them to have better interactions with customers. And so, stop trying to make your case. And let’s take a couple more evidence-based approaches to the feedback. And that’s, that’s the other part of this that I’m going to share, is when you get an objection, the best way to move toward that change, isn’t to try and debunk the objection it’s to actually roll away from it and roll toward one of these three beliefs. And so that is my, my biggest recommendation for leaders, which is when you get an objection, roll away from resistance. Instead, respond by asking an open-ended question that asks the person to consider consequences, benefits, or that that’s self-efficacy. And so, let me take you through what I think this sounds like, okay? So, we’ve all given feedback to an employee and had them say, ‘well, hold on a second. Why aren’t you talking to Mary about this too? She’s always interrupting people with the meetings. Why are you talking to me about interrupting at the meetings? Mary does it too.’ Now sometimes we do that parent thing, right? We’re like, ‘well, we’re not talking about Mary right now. We’re talking about you.’ And that’s just experienced as condescending. What I might suggest you do instead is this, you say, ‘okay, but what do you think your actions are costing you at the meeting? How might you be making your life harder?’ If you notice what I did there, I rolled away from her objection about Mary, and maybe we should be talking about Mary. And it sounded like I acknowledged it. I just said, okay. And then I pivoted to an open-ended question to try to draw out some consequences. So, if I’m trying to talk to somebody who’s constantly interrupting at meetings, I want them to start thinking about what that’s costing them to constantly be interrupting at meetings. And some people may give you an answer and say, ‘well, I guess if I’m constantly interrupting them, the whole conversation can’t unfold.’ Or if they dismiss it, you might be able to fill in the gaps and say, ‘have you noticed what happens when you speak up at meetings? There’s kind of a, uh, some eye-rolling that takes place among your peers and, um, the meetings end up going longer.’ Right? And so, you can kind of talk about what that’s costing them. Um, let’s do another one. If you have an employee who objects to your feedback and says, ‘well, I don’t understand why you’re making a whole thing out of this. Nobody’s ever brought this up before.’ Right? Have you heard, ever heard that from someone, Alyssa?

Alyssa:

Oh yeah. Just because I’m, I’m one of the few doesn’t mean I haven’t been one of the many.

Joe:
Right. And so sometimes we may not, might not know what to say. And so here again, let’s embrace our strategy, which is just let’s roll away from that objection. And let’s ask an open-ended question that draws out either consequences, benefits, or self-efficacy. So, if so, if this person says, ‘why are you making a big deal out of this? No one’s ever talked to me about it before.’ I might just pause and then say, ‘you know, what, Alyssa, would you describe for me what your mornings at work would be like if you weren’t rushing in late so often? How would that improve your day?’ And now we’ve completely moved away from your objection. I didn’t have to agree with it or disagree with it or debunk it. I’ve just, I’m in total control of this conversation. My goal is to shine a light on the consequences of not changing. The benefits to you, not even to me, I don’t want to focus on what I get out of it. I want to focus on what you get out of it.

Alyssa:
Yeah.

Joe:
And then I want to find a way to shine a light on your capacity to make this change. That it’s really not that involved. So, you know, if you give someone feedback and they say, ‘well, I don’t think I can do that. That’s just too hard.’ Or, uh, ‘this is just the way I am.’ Have you, have you had that conversation with someone? ‘Well, listen, this is how God made me and God don’t make mistakes. So, you’re just going to have to take me for how I am and who I am warts and all.’

Alyssa:
Yeah!

Joe:
Have you been in that conversation?

Alyssa:
Hallelujah! Amen! Yes!

Joe:
And so, you know, again, let’s go back to our core strategy, roll away from the resistance. Ask an open-ended question that draws out consequences, benefits, or self-efficacy. So, I might say something like this. ‘Okay, Alyssa, but here’s the thing, I’m not asking you to change all at once. What is one small, easy thing you could do differently starting today?’

Alyssa:
Oh my gosh. These are all such great examples. And you know, I don’t know about all the rest of our audience, but I’m over here writing stuff down. Because what this does, it also, this strategy also, when you’re rolling away from that resistance, you’re also rolling away from your own defensiveness and trying to center yourself as to why they’re doing what they’re doing and why it’s hurting you and your team. Right?

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
You’re rolling away from all of that and centering it back onto them and this. So, if that, to me is like so effective for my own mindset, because I can just as quickly become embroiled in that.

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
defensiveness when met with defensiveness.

Joe:
And let’s acknowledge that that’s normal too, right? If you have an employee who just knows how to push your buttons or who you’ve had a feedback conversation with once or twice or a half dozen times, and then they’re incredulous that you’re asking them to change, you have that moment where you’re like i’s strangling an option? Because maybe it should be because I’m done.’ And so, you may have to go home and sleep that off before you have this conversation the next day so that you can be even-keeled so that you can maintain control so that you can have total clarity around what you’re trying to do in this feedback conversation.

Alyssa:
Yeah. And I think it’s important to help leaders acknowledge the fact that we’ve all been there and done that. And to allow yourself enough grace to say, I need to hit the reset button. I need to redo this and then be able to go back into that and say, ‘I’m not trying to, you know, be defensive. And I acknowledged that I was, and that encounter did not go as…where I think it could have and the potential. And so, here’s how I would like to redirect and to make sure that we can both get to a productive place in this kind of dialogue.’

Joe:
And being able to have that conversation with a direct report only improves your standing. It demonstrates your integrity. If you’re sitting across from somebody and say, ‘Hey, I didn’t like how that went. Can we try again?’ That, that, that is an act of leadership that continues to put them at the center of all your interactions and it’s the kind of vulnerability that leaders need to bring to their role in order to be successful. Absolutely. Here’s the last thing about overcoming defensiveness. Once you get good at this strategy, where if, you know, if no matter what the objection is, that’s the really cool thing about this strategy is you don’t need to have an answer for it. You don’t need to know exactly what it’s going to be. You just know that when an objection comes, I’m going to go, ‘okay, but let me ask you this.’ And then you roll away from it with that open-ended question to try to highlight consequences, benefits, or self-efficacy. It’s like, it’s like a baseball player who has softballs thrown to them. The ball is so big, and they know exactly where it’s going to be, that they’re just knocking it out of the park every time. So that’s our strategy for overcoming defensiveness and feedback. I’d love to know what you think, BossHeroes. I want to hear from you, both your reactions to how you overcome defensiveness, how you roll away from resistance. Are you doing other things that work? Uh, have you tried this and failed at it miserably because Joe, your strategy is full of crap, and it doesn’t work? We, we welcome that feedback too. I put my big boy pants on this morning, and we can take it. So, tell us what you think. If you’re watching this video online, then drop a comment in the box below. Otherwise, you can email the show at bossbetternow@gmail.com.

Joe:
We come once again to our Camaraderie Question of the Week, Alyssa. Bosses build camaraderie on teams by making it easier for people to find things in common with each other. That’s why every week we give you a question you can use at meetings to facilitate connection and build camaraderie. So, I’m wondering this, how do you get yourself out of work slumps?

Alyssa:
Have you been secretly spying on me and what I am struggling with? At the present time.

Joe:
Is that your world right now? Are you in a work slump?

Alyssa:
Well, so, you know, as a solopreneur now, right, this looks a little different for me than it might for some other people in our audience, but nonetheless, it is a real thing. Um, I actually, in the last month for the first time, I think in my career that I can remember did not meet a goal I set for myself.

Joe:
Turn in your keys!

Alyssa:
Right? And I, first of all, I acknowledged that. I was like, holy crap, this feels weird. Um, but I, I met that with also a come to Jesus, come to grace, whatever you want to call it with myself to say, we have had a heck of a long period of time, whatever that has included for you. Okay? Even if your…work, your life, uh, was like hardly impacted some by some measure, I don’t know how that could be possibly true, by the pandemic. There have been emotional consequences, uh, for us all from this pandemic. And for me, that means even though I now have more time on my hands, because my son is now in in-person school, the burnout and exhaustion that I feel emotionally and mentally have absolutely impacted my motivation to do specifically a writing project. And so, for me, what I have been telling myself is that it’ll get done. I am confident. I trust myself that it will get done in the time that it is supposed to get done. Right? But that timing is not what I initially envisioned.

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
And so now it has become more of my mantra to say, I’m not going to try to seek motivation. Rather, I’m going to build momentum. And momentum for me means literally, even if it’s five minutes a day,

Joe:
Yes!

Alyssa:
I will devote to that thing. I am going to do the five minutes and then, hey, if I work, you know, if it’s like not going too horribly, and I feel like I can give it 10 more.

Joe:
Right.

Alyssa:
Then I give it 10 more. And so that’s my process of trying to move towards momentum over motivation specifically.

Joe:
Well, it’s such a great point. I, uh, that speaks to me and that’s how I approach exercise, um, or just activity. I know that exercise is kind of a form of therapy for me. It keeps me mentally healthy in addition to obviously getting all of the physical benefits. And when I get into exercise slumps, that’s what I have to tell myself. Your goal is not to exercise. Your goal is to go into the basement. That’s it. Just go down there, just go down there and start. Right? That’s where the weights are. And that’s where the treadmill is. Just go. And even if you only stay for five minutes, you did it. Check the box. If you stay, if you go down there, you do three pushups and you’re like, this sucks. I hate this. I’m leaving. Okay. But you know what? You did it. But it usually doesn’t work out that way. I usually end up down there a little bit longer and I get something great out of it. So that’s a point really well taken about momentum. And I think that kind of aligns with what I try to do to get myself out of work slumps. For one thing, I’m always, um, tending to bite off more than I can chew, right? So, I’m going to write this whole, um, next leadership academy, virtual summit, all in one shot when I sit down and then I don’t, and I get frustrated with myself. So, I need to break things into smaller pieces sometimes, and just say, all right, on this day, I’m going to get that piece done. Or I’m gonna at least get that piece started. And that, that helps me move forward. Um, I, it helps me get organized. We’ve talked about this, I’m a list maker and a calendar-structurer. Um, if I’m having a bad day and my wife’s like, uh, do you want to make a list? You know, cause she knows it’s like comfort food for me…I just did it yesterday. I was really feeling overwhelmed by a bunch of stuff that needed to get done in the next 10 days, having a moment where it was like, no way, how is this going to happen? So, I just threw it all up on the whiteboard and made a big list of everything. And then next to it in a red marker, I put the amount of time it was going to take to do each one. It took me 20 minutes. And then I sat down in my calendar, and I plugged all that in. And it was like, okay, now just follow that little map that you created for yourself, and it’ll all get done. But there’s one other thing that I do to get myself out of work slump sometimes. And I’ve given myself permission to do this in recent years. I give myself permission to do what is most appealing. To do what I most like.

Alyssa:
Really?

Joe:
Right? So, for example, um, I really enjoy, um, working with certain software programs on the computer. Like if it’s creative graphic design stuff or web design stuff. Um, and so if I know that’s one part of a larger project and I’m kind of procrastinating or whatnot, I’m just gonna be like, you know what, that’s the part of this I like the most. I’m going to go do that.

Alyssa:
Yeah.

Joe:
and just try to get lost in the enjoyment of it. And the part of it that sparks my creativity and that can help yank me out of a slump from time to time.

Alyssa:
Oh, that’s so cool. I love that. Cause most of the time, you know, we think we have that kind of reverse strategy for ourselves. We think, oh, well I have to do the hard thing before I get to reward myself.

Joe:
Yeah! Lick the frog or whatever they call it.

Alyssa:
Or treat myself.

Joe:
Right.

Alyssa:
Yeah. No, do the darn thing you like first. Treat yourself first. Yeah.

Joe:
Absolutely.

Alyssa:
That’s great. That’s great.

Joe:
Well, thank you for sharing my friend and that is the Camaraderie Question of the Week.

Joe:
All right, Alyssa, we have a little bit of time left this week and I want to devote it to a message that we got, an email, from Ann in New England. Uh, she has a duo creating drama at work. Here’s what she says. “How do you deal with two employees who reinforce each other’s damaging attitudes and behaviors. Meanwhile, purporting to be helpful and committed when dealing with you directly? For example, one of them recently sent an email to her supervisor offering to be helpful in several different areas. But the subtext was clearly that she thought the supervisor was doing a bad job and that her coworker who shares her toxic behaviors was being mistreated. I have a happy, well-functioning team with a number of new hires, but these two longtime employees are mired in resentments from the past and stuck in a narrative that they are being mistreated and unappreciated. Any attempts to make them happy are rejected or they move the goalposts if specific issues get addressed and resolved. By the way, they only talk to each other, and they reinforce each other’s worldviews about our organization. Any advice?

Alyssa:
Oh boy!

Joe:
This is not a news flash for anybody listening though, this is very common. Right? You have these codependent relationships in the workplace where people feed into each other’s victimhood or feed into each other sense of drama, right?

Alyssa:
Yeah. That’s your work bestie. Right?

Joe:
And that can be a double the toxicity. Where do you want to start for Ann?

Alyssa:
Oh, well, you know, I, I can totally appreciate what she’s talking about with this. You know, her astuteness of the subtext of the communications and all of that.

Joe:
Uh-huh. Yeah.

Alyssa:
And I think that … I don’t know, as, as a coach, I go, okay, then we got to make that subtext bold and big and bring it out.

Joe:
Bring it into the light. Yup.

Alyssa:
And we gotta. Yup. We gotta … gotta say, okay, this…we’re gonna sit down. We’re going to have the conflict resolution mediation kind of thing. And we’re going to have it with both of them together in the same room so that whenever they go out there, it’s they both got told the same thing in front of each other. And they’re both going to understand this is not the kind of behavior that’s going to be continued because everybody else out there is on the same page as I, the leader am on. And we don’t want that here. We’re not going to take it anymore. *singing* We’re not gonna take it! You know. Sorry, everybody’s ears that are bleeding, but

Joe:
No. That was pretty spot on.

Alyssa:
I think calling it out into the light and trying to help them, number one, calling out that subtext to say, I’m going to help you understand that these tactics that you’re using, I know about them, I know what you’re trying to do. And the rest of the team knows what you’re trying to do. And we’re not going to feed into that anymore. We’re not going to be brought down by that. And here’s, what’s going to happen. Here are the consequences. If this behavior continues, um, and making sure that they both see and feel that there isn’t going to be room anymore for them to do that. Change is the only acceptable pathway forward.

Joe:
Right.

Alyssa:
Change or out the door. So, you wrote a book on this, Joe, I think you might have a few things to say.

Joe:
A little bit. I mean, I think the most important phrase in the entire email is, uh, stuck in a narrative. They’re stuck. They have mired in the past. They have long-term resentments. They’re stuck. So, the chances of, of actual change happening here are pretty unlikely, right? Let’s call a spade a spade. Now they’re very much as kind of a, this codependency it’s like conspiracy theorists, right? As soon as an individual conspiracy theorist is confronted by truth or fact that, um, conflicts with their worldview, they run back to their community of fellow conspiracy theorists to be validated and to be reinforced.

Alyssa:
Right.

Joe:
And so that’s what’s happening here, right? And so, while that codependency is allowed to exist, change is not going to occur. So, can we pull a weed? Can we remove one person from the organization? I mean, maybe not. Where so many people are facing staffing shortages, or maybe the behavior isn’t worthy of termination at this point, maybe you have to live with this. So, is a separation possible? Can we create some space in the workplace between these two people? Can the changing of schedules, or duties, or roles, or work location, in one way or another disrupt this pattern and this routine of these two folks feeding into each other’s, uh, skewed worldview about the place? I love what you said, Alyssa, about we have to bring that into the light. We have to say very clearly in some conversations, here’s what you said, but here’s how I’m experiencing this. And I think there is, there are occasions when having that conversation with both of them can work. But I think in some cases they run out the door and they chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp, and they, they, they have that reinforcing conversation with each other, and it sort of quickly undoes the speech that you might give. I think that there are times when it’s more effective to have the conversation one-on-one because then that person can’t hide. Right?

Alyssa:
Hmmm.

Joe:
Then that person is experiencing the consequence of my relationship with this other person one-on-one with me. Right? I might feel uncomfortable by the fact that you’re calling me out on my BS one-on-one. Especially if you say something like now, I’ve…this is not my first rodeo. And so, I know what’s going to happen next. I know you’re going to go back to Sally or Jim or William. You’re going to go back to Sally and you’re going to tell her about our conversation. And Sally is going to tell you that you’re right. And she’s going to tell you that I’m out of bounds. So, she’s going to tell you, that’s not the way that it is. And I just want you to understand that that’s not true. I want you to understand that what you and I are talking about right now is the reality that you are working in and what, whatever kind of codependent group think conversation you will go out and have after this isn’t and the sooner you can get your head around that what we’re talking about in this room is what’s going to determine your future and is what’s going to determine your reality, the better we’re going to get, the more quickly we are going to get, to a healthier place. And so, I think that trying to almost name that conspiratorial behavior in that codependent relationship can go a long way to starting to diffuse the pattern of some of that behavior. Uh, the truth is that these two are doing more harm than good. And so, if you’re stuck with them, you’ve got to pursue that separation. Otherwise, one of them at least has got to go.

Alyssa:
Hmm. I can’t wait to hear what, what works, what doesn’t work in this situation, you know, I think we’ve all at some point in our careers been there. Um, and I, if there was one magic recipe, I think we would have been clued into it by now.

Joe:
Yeah.

Alyssa:
So, I, uh, I welcome any and all feedback as to how that actually works out. And I hope that one of those strategies works because the alternative is hellish.

Joe:
And you know, here’s the interesting thing… Yes. I’m betting one of these people knows that they’re stuck in an unhealthy codependency. This is a great spot for the BossScript we talked about in the last episode where we sit across from the person and we say, I’ve got to ask you a question. Are you happy here? And you just go right at what you said in this email, it feels like you’re stuck. It feels like you keep talking about some of these things that happened in the past. It feels like any attempt we make to accommodate you is just met with blah. So, I really got to know, are you happy here? And then as you have that dialogue, you actually could shine a light and say, I notice that every time you experienced something you think is misery, you go and talk about it to this other person. And it looks like they’re just feeding into that. What would, and you know, talk about rolling away from resistance. Let’s imagine, what would your life be like if every time you were unhappy, you didn’t go talk to Sally, what would that be like? What would you do instead? How would…how does that shape your thinking? You know, and then you may actually start to shine a light on the fact that this is an unhealthy relationship that’s just making them more miserable.

Alyssa:
And that illuminates that resistance and the reality in a way that they can see it for themselves, rather than maybe forcing them to say, or forcing you to say, this is the reality of the situation. And you will understand it as I do. In that context, then you’re giving them the ability to understand the reality of how it is truly impacting them. What the consequences are for them.

Joe:
And that’s an interesting point because you kind of hit upon two different tones for that conversation. Right? Earlier, we were talking about a very direct conversation.

Alyssa:
Yeah.

Joe:
Where we say, this is, I know what this is. It’s not going to continue. It’s time to get a grip, you know. Versus, hey, I, I wonder if maybe you can see this a different way. Let me tell you what I see. Let me ask you to think about it. And it really depends on the conversations that have come before, and the personalities involved.

Alyssa:
Yup!

Joe:
in terms of which one is going to work.

Alyssa:
Yup.

Joe:
And so, Ann, good luck. We’re cheering for you. Um, we don’t necessarily, uh, insist that these are the right answers. Uh, these are the unorganized brain-dumped thoughts of two people who have thoughts in reaction to your situation. Keep us posted. And thank you for the question.

Joe:
All right. That’s our show for this week friends, don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast to get notified every time a new episode is released. Oh, and please, please share your affection for our show, with people in your network. The more ears we bring to the podcast, the closer we get to fulfilling our mission to fill workplaces with better bosses. Thanks for listening. See you next time.

Alyssa:
This show is sponsored by Joe Mull and Associates. Remember, commitment comes from better bosses. Visit JoeMull.com today.

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