By Matthew Levy
The executives that I speak with want to get better results at work. Some people push too hard and are perceived as jerks or bossy overlords. Other people struggle to get results because they’re weak, don’t to ask for what they want, or don’t hold others accountable.
The Place to Start is Awareness:
The place to start is awareness. Awareness of our strategy and tactics is helpful. And, awareness about how we are perceived by others at work is valuable. We can learn from that.
When preoccupation about how we are perceived becomes a distraction, disempowering, or blocks healthy assertiveness, then we have a problem.
On the other hand, a complete lack of concern for others’ perceptions or lack of concern for your colleagues in general can also be a problem.
I recently had a conversation with a very successful senior executive that was just told that it can’t just be about results and that if s/he doesn’t become easier to work with and transform relationships with three specific executive peers, s/he’ll be out. Luckily, s/he has a coach and has been granted some time to turn it around.
In another case, I spoke with a successful marketing executive with a history of jobs at major consumer brands we all know. S/he was known for successful and profitable product launches and was acknowledged by the CMO for being one of the best marketers the company had ever had. However, when results really mattered, s/he became a real jerk, pushy and difficult to work with and the noise from others was too high. In this case, s/he was fired.
In many companies, once you are labeled as difficult or a jerk, you can be on your way out – even if you don’t know it. Getting results is important, but that’s not enough. We must also be great with people.
But, as you know, being a softy is not the answer. In a third company, and a fourth now that I think of it, both CEOs are just too allowing, tolerating executives to do as they wish and not what is best for the business. Result are suffering.
Here are three practical skills that you can apply immediately to be more self aware and more effective in getting the results you seek.
1. Showing Respect in Every Interaction
Our relationships are the foundation of our accomplishments, and respect is the foundation of any relationship. So if respect is missing, results will suffer. People are pretty transparent: we don’t hide lack of respect well. If we know we don’t respect the person we are about to speak with, we shouldn’t have the conversation until we find a way to honor the other person.
2. When it Matters, Be Assertive, not Aggressive, and don’t be Passive
Ask yourself, “When I’m confronted with a challenge, am I passive, aggressive, or assertive?” Do you know the difference? Most people don’t. Let’s agree that passive is when you consider your needs to be less important than the other person’s needs. You commonly give in and subjugate your needs to theirs and your needs commonly don’t get met. Aggressive is when your needs and wants are supremely important to you, and their needs and wants are of little interest to you. You get what you want, and they get screwed. Assertive is when your needs and wants are very important to you, and their needs and wants are also very important to you. You pursue your interests, and you do so while honoring their needs as well. You get what you need, and the people around you tend to get what they need too — Win-Win.
So, do you tend to be passive, aggressive, or assertive when the stakes are high?
Building on the difference between assertiveness and aggression, I have some final advice:
3. Don’t Force Outcomes. Instead, Negotiate Expectations
People do what they want to and only what they want to. If we try to use power or otherwise try to force someone to do something, they will resent us for it, and it will come back to bite us. Instead of forcing outcomes, we do better when we show respect for the other person and negotiate expectations that work for everyone. We may have to spend some time listening and creating a common understanding of a situation. When we do that, more often than not, we will gain valuable information that will improve the solution and the relationship. (Read more on Negotiating Requests and Promises or The Art of Delegation.)
It is too easy to forget that, more often than not, getting great results is about being great with people. So, if you want better results, be great with people, too.