When the temperature rises, the light dims

John Langhorne/Tree Full of Owls

Recently, a colleague mentioned that his teen-age daughter just obtained her driver’s license and promptly had a fender bender in the family sedan. She was hurrying out of the driveway and backed into the neighbor’s car, and flustered, she drove off. Dad learned about it when the neighbor came over and mentioned it to him.  Dad is a gentle man, but he was p—–! The subsequent confrontation with daughter is a good example of conflict, something very familiar to all of us. Such an event can be used by effective managers to their advantage.

Conflict requires heat and speed. The emotional temperature goes up and drives rapid reactions. This one-two punch produces transient stupidity.

Well these folks are good parents so, mom and dad met with daughter when she came home and it was clear to everyone that dad was steamed. Mom observed that everybody was pretty hot, so said they should all discuss it in the morning. They also asked daughter to think about and suggest what her parents’ response should be to this incident.

Next morning daughter apologized and suggested a very severe punishment to mom and dad. They had conferred before they spoke with her and required a softer but appropriate set of measures, including a personal apology to the neighbor.

This is an example of a wise management process.  Here is what happened:

1. The parent partnership worked. Two people working together are smarter than one, collaboration is more effective than reaction. This is especially the case when the issue is emotionally hot and visible to others.

2. The partnership understood that some cool-off and slow-down time was needed. Speed feeds bad decision making. We need our best thinking in hot situations, particularly when the situation is ambiguous.

3. The parents took the opportunity to ask their daughter to influence the outcome, inviting her to take responsibility. This won’t work with all teens or employees, and knowing which is important.

4. When they met, everyone was cool and emotion wasn’t driving behavior.

5. The partnership was able to obtain the outcome they had agreed upon and also made the daughter feel better by softening her suggested sanction.

6. They concluded by asking daughter what she learned and re-assured her of their love.  Effective managers use lessons learned questions and show respectful reassurance. These are performance and relationship builders.

Lessons learned that apply to managing and leading:

Stress makes people temporarily stupid. Too many managers make too many decisions hot and fast. The worst decisions I have made in my lifetime were made when my stress level was very high. One very good piece of advice is “sleep on it.” Your sleeping brain actually cycles through several brief episodes when it appears to be operating at high speed. If you review the issue before sleeping, often the solution will be in your mind when you wake.

Every problem is an opportunity. Problems make issues visible and provide a reason for managers to take action. With some thoughtful planning, it is possible to initiate a conversation and do a turn-around. Remember that proper planning produces premier performance.

Always look for opportunities to get people into the game. This is particularly the case when the event directly affects the person involved. Ask yourself how this crisis can be used to invite input. Although there is some risk asking for input, engagement usually works when used by a skilled manager. This is a responsibility builder.

When the conflict is driven by too much heat and speed, remember it takes two people to have a fight. Here is a situation where listening respectfully and reflecting on the person’s concerns can quickly defuse the situation and lead to good results.

I am always impressed at the commonality between effective managing and good parenting.

John Langhorne is with Langhorne Associates. He can be reached at www.langhorneassociates.com. His new book, Beyond Luck: Practical Steps to Navigate the Path from Manager to Leader, is available at www.beyondluck.net.