Margaret listened to Stacey’s update about the recent phone encounter with Frank. He had called and rudely complained about some changes that affected everyone in the organization.
“I don’t understand why he has to be such a chronic complainer,” Stacey looked up from her notes and waited for her boss to respond.
“Here is what I have learned about human beings and relationships,” Margaret leaned forward and continued, “every one of us, Stacey, has three basic needs or wants. We want to be: respected, valued, and we want the freedom to be in control. We don’t like the feeling of being micromanaged. So the moment we feel like we are losing our sense of autonomy, we react. Some people pull back and only do what they have to in order to get by. Other people get a little prickly in their conversations.”
“Yes, his behavior comes across like a porcupine defending its space by sticking out its quills.”
You have probably had a similar experience. When we encounter people acting out (i.e., withdrawing, pouting, dominating conversations, etc.), it is usually an indication that they perceive one of their basic needs is not being met. Those behaviors are like quills that every one of us sticks out when we feel threatened.
Naturally, when we see the quills of a porcupine, we make an effort to avoid getting stuck. The same is true when we see negative behaviors that surface in the workplace. We avoid the issues (or the person) in hopes that we won’t get hurt or make things worse.
However, when we see the quills of negative behaviors, it is a signal to us that we should not react emotionally but should use our ability to reason. We can help to minimize conflict by considering the following:
If we can determine which of those is the source of the problem, we will have a better perspective and can work on a solution by addressing an unmet need.
“So Stacey,” her boss inquired, “which of the basic needs do you think was unmet for Frank?”
“I think it was about control. He wasn’t comfortable with being told to accept the new changes. It would have been better if he could have participated in earlier discussions about the new process and had time to think about how to implement it in his workload.”
Excellent leaders understand the importance of creating an environment where everyone, regardless of title or position, is respected, valued, and trusted to control their responsibilities. When changes are on the horizon, communicating proactively and giving people the courtesy of time for contemplation before implementation will help increase acceptance. It will also help you to manage the potential influence of a chronic complainer.
Steven Iwersen, CSP, is the founder and President of Aurora Pointe, LLC, a leadership development company. He is a professional speaker and trainer that specializes in helping organizations manage change and difficult transitions. He is the author of The Porcupine Principles: How to Move Prickly People to Preferred Outcomes. He is also the host of VIP Exchange, a weekly video cast program. Visit www.StevenIwersen.com for more ideas and information.
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