Tag Archives: Clear Expectations

Benign Neutrality: Breaking the Cycle of Rude Behavior

More often than not, leaders will encounter rude behavior in the workplace. This behavior can quickly escalate into a cycle of negative behavior that is difficult to break using traditional approaches.

If you practice benign neutrality, Then you will break the cycle of rude behavior so that you can interact in a civil way.

Rude Behavior

Everyone experiences or witnesses rude behavior on a weekly basis. It may be as simple as person ignoring another’s opinion or as nasty as undermining someone’s efforts. If you respond or react to the behavior, you run the risk of escalating it. If you don’t deal with it, it becomes a self-maintaining cycle. Not only will it thwart your effort to get the job done, you may become burnt out as a result. It will also impact others around you, at work and at home.

Cycle of Behavior

When in a cycle of rude behavior, you may lose focus on what is important and the behavior may become toxic. Do not take it on. Ask yourself:

  • Do I feel safe talking with this person?
  • Was the behavior unintentional?
  • Was it an isolated incident?

If you answer no to any of the questions then do not discuss it with the offender. Once the behavior has continued for an extended period, being nice, giving feedback, practicing ongoing regard, and apologizing can actually make things worse. Conversely, if you over react and try too obviously to “distance” yourself, or report the problem, you may also cause harm. Instead, manage yourself using benign neutrality.

What is Benign Neutrality?

The mindset of Benign Neutrality is to remain interactive and civil with a rude person so that you can work together. Be professional, polite, non-threatening, impartial, and free of emotion. Do not shut down, avoid, display indifference, or ignore the other person completely. Act with humility and respect. This will not weaken your position but instead, it redirects the conversation to a position of: “We need to work together. What do we need to do to move this forward?”

Use the lowest level on the ladder of inference to describe: “This is what I observe; this is the data we have.” Don’t attempt to validate assumptions. Listen. Think before you speak. Ask yourself:

“Is what I am about to say: …brief? …on topic? …useful and accurate?             Does it need to be said?”

Stand firm with your statements. Don’t ask a question unless you are genuinely interested in the other person’s response. If the other person is unreasonable, use these questions:

  • I’m feeling stuck. Do you have any ideas?
  • What data or logic will change your mind?
  • How can we get more information?
  • If you were in my place how would you proceed?
  • Can you tell me how your idea impacts this situation?
  • How can I express this in a way that respects your views?
  • What is it about this situation (or me) that is making this difficult?
  • How can we work together to get this done?

Questions to Deepen Thinking

How is your approach to dealing with rude people working?
What are the consequences of shutting down and evading people with rude behavior?
If you treat people who exhibit rude behavior with humility and respect, what will that get you?

 Credits
Argyris, C. (1982). Reasoning, learning, and action: Individual and organizational. San Francisco: Jossey Bass Inc. Pub.
Porath, C. (2016, April). Managing Yourself: An Antidote to Incivility. Harvard Business Review, pp. 108-111.
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Accountability Leads to Innovation: 5 Requirements for Setting Clear Expectations

It may seem counter-intuitive to some, but a culture of accountability can lead to a culture of innovation. Our research has shown that successful leaders make their expectations very clear, hold themselves accountable for follow-up, and recognize others for their accomplishments.

If leaders make their expectations clear and describe the desired outcome, then others feel pride in achievement.

When others see how the request fits into the big picture, it inspires them to want to get it done and do more. More than just engagement, clear expectations and accountability generate employee commitment.

Masterpiece Exemplar

Everyone knows that we provide them with the details of what they have to do and if they do those things, they will be successful. There are no gray areas. But this isn’t just about being nice to their employees – leaders make their expectations very clear and hold their staff accountable for this high level of performance. They give them a way to do their job that happens beautifully and naturally. They have confidence in their employee’s abilities and because of that, set high expectations for them. This makes it possible for the environmental services department at Fairview Hospital to achieve even greater goals than the staff had ever dreamed was possible. They are proud of their efforts and success, and it shows.

Excerpt from: Masterpieces in Leadership: Cases & Analysis for Best Practice

If you make your expectations clear, others will take pride in achievement and be inspired to do more.

Unclear Expectations

When others do not follow through with what is expected of them, leaders should resist the urge to question, “Why did that happen?” Asking ‘why’ only leads to blame. A culture of accountability is not about blame and it is not about getting angry. It is about getting people committed to do what you have asked them to do. If they are not following through, it means the expectation is not clear.

Instead of asking why, leaders should stop, slow down, and ask, “How did I let that happen?”
  • What did I ask the other person to do?
  • Was I clear?
  • Why was it important?
  • Was it a reasonable request?
  • Did the other person understand the “what,” “why,” and “how?”

Clear Expectations

There is a distinction between having an expectation and setting a clear expectation. Setting clear expectations leaves no uncertainty around results. As leaders become clear with their expectations and others follow suit, a culture of accountability will emerge. Consider the following 5 factors to be clear about your expectations:

Is the expectation:
  1. Relevant? Is it consistent with the big picture?
  2. Reasonable? Is it realistic with current resources & capacity?
  3. Straightforward? Is it simple & clear enough to understand?
  4. Measurable/Observable? Will progress be visible?
  5. Scheduled for inspection? Is there a date/plan for reviewing progress?

Questions to Deepen Thinking

How is holding others accountable working for you?
What are the consequences of not following up about expectations?
What would happen if you started recognizing others for meeting expectations using ongoing regard?

Credit

Connors, R. & Smith, T. (2009). How did that happen? Holding people accountable for results the positive, principled way. New York: The Penguin Group.
Kegan, R. &. Lahey, L. (2001). How the way we talk can change the way we work: Seven languages for transformation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Pelote,V. & Route, L. (2007). Masterpieces in leadership: Cases & analysis for best practice. Boston: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.

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