Last week, I talked about how to disagree with your boss effectively (without committing career suicide). Learning to respond well to being challenged can be just as difficult. A good leader would want to be challenged, so here are some suggestions on how to deal with it.
Listen with respect: Listen for what is being said and whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not. Usually before people gather the courage to speak up they are probably pent up with frustration or some negative emotion. Address what you can at that moment and follow up on what you think are deeper issues later on. If your Ã¢â‚¬ËœchallengerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ is rude or disrespectful, intervene quickly and explain the values you would like to guide the discussion. If they continue to be rude terminate the conversation.
Ã¢â‚¬ËœSuspendÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ your power: The temptation to call on your power or authority to put the person in their place when you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t like what you are hearing can beckon but resist it. Sometimes, because you are more aware of the broader context of what is being Ã¢â‚¬ËœchallengedÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, you might be irritable at what you might consider to be inconsequential issues being picked on. Keep listening and find out why the issues they are presenting are important to them.Ã‚Â
DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t retreat or react: A well thought out challenge from others can put you on the back foot. In such cases, most people might do one of two extremes- retreat or Ã¢â‚¬Ëœfire backÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t do either. See respectful challenge as an opportunity to engage and learn whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s important to your people. Keeping the communication lines open even on difficult issues helps to bring your team on side or at least stop them from undermining your efforts.
Manage expectations : When you encourage challenge ( especially upward) it helps to ensure that thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a common or at least Ã¢â‚¬ËœworkingÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ understanding of what this means. Challenge is like empowerment- it can mean different things to different people. Ask yourself- is your definition of challenge the same as everybody elseÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s? What would people see as the real benefits of speaking up? Find ways to reinforce the view that choosing to challenge is part of everyoneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s responsibility for creating a positive participative environment.
Know that it takes time : Unless you have created a culture where people have learnt to challenge, think whether what you are asking of people is difficult for them to do. What are the incentives for challenging? How can you minimise the risk people associate with challenging the boss?
Take it a notch up: Employees challenge the boss so rarely that when it does happen you must learn what you can from it and how to encourage it from the person. Where appropriate ask; How difficult or easy it was to approach you; Why colleagues are reluctant to challenge; why they felt it important to speak up; what you can do make challenging less threatening.Ã‚Â
Now take action: How can you make challenging less risky for your team?