Imagine this scenario. You gave a presentation at your team meeting today. It was a progress report on your big project. Around the table, heads nodded. Then this afternoon, as you walked down the hallway, you overheard a conversation between two teammates. One was complaining loudly about what a “crock” your presentation was and how he couldn’t believe the boss was wasting time and money letting you pursue it.
What would you do? (Not what should you do, or what would your courageous super-hero alter-ego do, but really, what would you do?)
I hear all sorts of wild stories about how people have been wronged by malicious, nasty, vindictive teammates. People plead their cases to me, looking for sympathy and perhaps some validation of just how hard they’ve got it. It would be easy for me to take their side and empathize with just how horrible it must be to have that person as a teammate. But that’s not my job. My job is to ask one simple question “what did you do?”
- Did you talk to your boss about the inappropriate behavior?
- Did you commiserate with a colleague?
- Did you say nothing and suffer in silence?
Those are the three most common choices. Option #1 feels justified (shouldn’t the boss know about their terrible behavior?), but could easily backfire. The boss might perceive you as passive-aggressive and just too weak to stand up for yourself. You might justify Option #2 as just a little healthy venting and stress relief. Don’t kid yourself, it’s gossip, which sets up factions that threaten to tear your team apart. Option #3 means you’re doomed to repeat the cycle, now with the added benefit of stress and resentment on your part. If you take any one of these three roads, you share the blame for the dysfunctional state of your team. Victims can be as destructive to teams as the supposed bad guys.
When I ask, “what did you do,” almost no one tells me that they did their best to address the concern with their teammate. I know it’s difficult, but the alternative is worse. The moment you decide you’re the victim on your team, you’re done. Tackle the issue directly with one of these approaches.
If you like to follow process and stick to concrete, business-focused issues? Then you want…
Just the Facts
“When I heard you say that my project was a waste of time and resources, I was really surprised because you didn’t say anything in the meeting today. I count on you to share your concerns with me so that I can address them. What would it take for you to raise these issues in the meetings?”
If you like process, but aren’t afraid to let the emotions enter the picture, you want…
Victim Impact Statement
“When I passed you and Jennifer talking privately about my presentation, and you were raising issues you hadn’t raised in the meeting, it made me feel foolish and, worse, it made me feel I can’t trust you. How can you address issues directly with me?”
If you are direct and comfortable challenging your teammate head on, try…
Between the Eyes…
“It’s not ok with me that you’re talking about this offline. Do you have a few minutes to share your concerns with me?”
If you’re really intimidated and you’re just getting started with confrontation, you can use the safest route…
It’s Not You, it’s Me…
“What could I have done differently today so that you would have raised these issues in the meeting?”
Anything less than addressing the issue with your teammate is setting your team up for some ugly stuff in the future. Pick the right words that fit your style, practice in the mirror, phone a friend, whatever you need to do, get your point across. Taking the high road this way ensures you don’t own the dysfunctional behavior on your team.