By Sam Horn
"Things are never so bad that they can’t get worse. But they’re sometimes so bad they can’t get better.” - Mignon McLaughlin
An attendee raised her hand at a recent Tongue Fu!® presentation and said, “What can we do if we have a board member so difficult to be around, he’s causing others to drop off the board?”
I asked, “What is he doing?”
“He constantly interrupts, attacks anyone who dares challenge his point of view, drops the ball and then blames someone else for what went wrong. The list goes on and on,” she said, sighing.
I said, “If he is repeatedly undermining the effectiveness and morale of the team, he needs to be held accountable for his actions. If he continues to compromise rather than contribute to the group’s performance, he needs to be removed.”
“That’s easier said than done,” the non-profit exec pointed out.
“You’re right. That’s why it helps to have a list of criteria to help you think through this situation thoroughly so you can trust you’re making an informed and wise (rather than rash) decision about how to proceed.
These Choose Your Battle Criteria can help you determine your best course of action in these challenging circumstances.
Sam Horn’s 20 Choose Your Battle Criteria
1. What is this person doing that is counterproductive to me and/our group?
2. Is this person aware that what s/he is doing is inappropriate? Does s/he care? Is his/her behavior innocent or intentional?
3. Is this person’s behavior a one-time thing or an ongoing concern?
4. Have I already made reasonable attempts to inform this person of the inappropriateness of their behavior? Has s/he made any effort to change as a result?
5. What are tangible examples of how this person’s behavior is impacting me and/or the group? Could I be over-reacting or is this person’s behavior sabotaging the group in measurable ways?
6. Could there be extenuating circumstances explaining his/her behavior we’re not taking into account? Could those circumstances temporarily excuse how s/he is acting?
7. What will happen if I do nothing? Is that an acceptable option? Can I live with myself if I choose to ignore this person’s behavior and not speak up?
8. What do I hope to achieve by confronting this person? Be specific. What do you hope happens? How can you best communicate what you want so the individual will be receptive to it? Do you realize s/he will not be receptive to this feedback no matter how diplomatically it’s conveyed?
9. What are the risks and potential consequences of confronting this person?
10. Am I willing to pay those consequences? Why or why not?
11. Is there any realistic chance this person will make an effort to improve how s/he treats me and the others (voluntarily or involuntarily)?
12. Could I be pursing a “Don Quixote” exercise in futility? Are the odds that I won’t be able to favorably impact this situation no matter how long or hard I try?
13. What are the resources needed to prevail in this situation? What will it cost in terms of legal fees, staff time, emotional toll, energy drain, and brainpower to achieve the desired outcome? Make this measurable. Identify in terms of dollars, hours, (weeks? months?) what it would take to successfully resolve this.
14. Is it my job to “educate” this person about his/her inappropriate behavior? Does someone need to hold him/her accountable and I’m that someone? What message are we sending the group by tolerating this misbehavior?
15. Will pursuing this put me or members of the group at risk? How so? Have I discussed this dilemma with others who will be affected by this decision? If my efforts prove unsuccessful, will we regret taking this action?
16. Are there other options I haven’t explored? Is there a way to address this issue without endangering my job, health, finances or the well-being of the group?
17. Have I discussed this with seasoned peers or trained professionals who could provide innovative, workable solutions that could turn this situation around?
18. Will time heal this situation? In the “big scheme of things,” is this all that important? Shall I adopt a “This too shall pass” philosophy? Why or why not?
19. Are there penalties or advantages for delaying action? Do I need to confront this now? Could waiting help me approach more wisely instead of rashly?
20. Is there an objective third party with an impartial perspective who could intervene and mediate a satisfactory resolution? Who is this person? How can we get him/her involved?
As the saying goes, "Only a fool tests the depth of the water with both feet."
These Choose Your Battle Criteria aren’t a panacea guaranteed to produce a perfect resolution for every conflict; they are a tool for thinking first and acting second so you can put your best foot forward instead of putting your foot in your mouth. I hope they help you proactively deal with people who are undermining your group's productivity.
Excerpted with permission from Sam Horn's Take the Bully By the Horns (St. Martins Press). Visit www.SamHorn.com for more tips on how to deal with difficult individuals who run roughshod over everyone's rights -- and to arrange for Sam to train your employees how to communicate with challenging people.