Deal with Big Things When they are Small

If you’re like many leaders and managers you fear correcting errant behaviors. It’s likely that you don’t like dealing with difficult people or situations. How did the cases get to be difficult? Chances are you chose to ignore the early warning signs. Perhaps you saw someone working at the last minute when there had been ample time to accomplish the task and involve the appropriate people without creating a traffic jam. Perhaps you saw ineffective approaches to meeting participation, e.g. someone who talks over other participants in meetings or who doesn’t listen to suggestions, or only hears the suggestions of people he/she likes already.

If you choose to let the early warning signs pass without your action, you’ve just encouraged the very behavior you’re reluctant to address. Moreover, if, at a later date, you do address behavior that’s become egregious or highly objectionable and consequential, the person can say legitimately that it hasn’t been a problem (that he/she knew of) before now. Indeed, behaviors such as these are not typically done with malice but out of habit or ignorance. Yet to hear long after the behavior is well established that it’s a problem is a rude—and cruel—awakening. The person can reasonably say, “If it was such a problem, why didn’t you say something?” Or worse, “Can it be a real problem if you haven’t said anything until now?” The person can feel set up for failure—“If you knew it was a problem and could have helped me be successful, why didn’t you say something? Maybe you wanted me to be unsuccessful?”

It is far easier to deal with big issues when they’re small, that is, before they grow into big issues.

Some tips:

· Name the behavior factually, e.g.

o This is the third time you’ve interrupted Jane in this meeting.

o You have missed the agreed upon deadline without notice to me or the others who are working on the project.

· Discuss the impact of the behavior

o If a person is not allowed to complete her input, she and others who see it will likely contribute less. We won’t get the benefit of their perspectives.

o Other people’s work plans and priorities are now jammed and the overall project’s due date is in jeopardy.

· Describe what you want to see done differently

o Let people finish speaking. Check with them if you’re not sure. Even better, inquire about people’s suggestions. Ask how they see the idea working.

o Meet deadlines or coordinate with all affected parties if you’re going to miss.