“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Einstein nailed it! In leadership development we tend to make things much more challenging than they need to be when it comes to the skills required for success.
Let's stop it!
There is one skill that surpasses all others and it is not even close. That one ability/skill/requirement is Emotional Intelligence. No one cares how smart you are, who you know, what you have done in the past, what you hope to do in the future, what you meant to say, what you thought you said, or what you want..they only care about how you make them "feel".
It is time that leaders embrace this and begin to focus more of their development in this very specific area. I am not advocating a softer, kinder workplace...not at all. I believe in an aggressive, candid, real approach to our emotional connections. We would all find it much easier if we simply stop believing the stories we tell ourselves about what other people did or did not say. This head trash is harmful and spins us off into a vicious cycle of delusional activities. I have witnessed people spend hours crafting strategies to deal with an issue that DID NOT EXIST IN REAL LIFE.
Here are a few things to try...
Seek Clarity - If you experience any dissonance or ambiguity during a conversation and start to feel anxious, upset, frustrated with what you are hearing...talk about it. Stop the conversation and ask the other person for clarification on their intent. Share with them what you "heard" and how that felt and ask them if that is what was intended. If it was not, allow them to restate. If it was, then share with them how it makes you feel and hash it out right then and there.
Be Courageous - You will be challenged to take the "clarify" step but I can assure you it will feel much better than if you walk away without doing it. Once you do it a few times and see how good it feels to be clear and anchored in reality, it will be much easier. If it leads to an honest conversation and there is disagreement, you have done both parties a service and also established new ground rules for your ongoing relationship. On the rare occasion it leads to ending the relationship, isn't that better too?
Check your Ego - Don't think less of yourself, think of yourself less. Contrary to what we all believe...it is not all about us. The majority of the folks you engage with each day are not spending endless hours obsessing over you or trying to actively ruin your day. Everyone is simply trying to do their best (most of the time) and if we simply assumed this, our days would be much more productive. We all think more about ourselves than we do about others and that goes for the person you are convinced is actively trying to undermine you at work.
Act on Purpose - This has a double meaning. Act in alignment with who you believe you are and why you were put on this earth. Don't allow others to hijack your emotional state and make you act outside of your integrity. Also, don't allow your emotions to drive your actions. Emotions are a tremendous indicator that something is amiss but you have to dig deeper and address what lies below. Do not allow yourself to act on the emotion. Remember that the distance/time between you feel your emotions and your reaction is a measure of maturity.
These are all simple but not easy things to do. This is not rocket science but that makes it more of a head scratcher as to why more folks don't do it. Changing our behavior is certainly not a light switch and it does take focus/energy. As a leader, if you want to see a change in the way others behave, change your own behavior. If you change, those around you will change as well. It is one of the great paradoxes of leadership because leaders spend so much time focused on others which is what they believe they are supposed to do. The harsh reality is that all leaders must learn how to lead themselves first.
Gandhi said it best (as is often misquoted) - “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.”