Workplace environments have begun to undergo a social shift, wherein people are becoming more explicit about how and where they want to work. This change led one of my friends to reevaluate what it means to lead within his organization. To improve company culture, he tried to move away from the traditional structure and give his team more potential for autonomy, ownership, and collaboration than they’d had prior. This decision was antithetical to “the way we always did things,” and his supervisor was unhappy with the new vision. When my friend brought it up to his boss, the idea was squashed without further conversation. It became clear there was a value conflict that the team would not smoothly resolve.
A few weeks ago, another friend shared that after multiple attempts to strengthen a relationship with a co-worker, there wasn’t a willingness on the other person’s part to collaborate or connect beyond their technical work. “I want to improve this relationship, but I feel like I’ve done everything I can to hear their perspective, and they continue to dismiss mine. At this point, I need to make it work and be OK that it isn’t what I had hoped.”
When I heard both these stories, they resonated because they described common tension points I see:
- People who are passionate about wanting to work differently—including people.
- They are being more collaborative.
- Affording more autonomy to team members—but working for someone with a more traditional style of leadership, which is command and control.
Or a relationship was strained, and one party was unwilling to repair it. Though neither situation avoided the conflict and brought up the questions at hand, the results were still not what they’d hoped.
How You Can Resolve a Work Situation
If your difficult workplace situation isn’t moving forward, you might observe a sustained unwillingness to:
- Be Curious. To free an elephant, we need to take the time to diagnose the actual problem instead of settling for superficial answers. Curiosity requires us to consider other possibilities. The solution might not be resolved if somebody critical of the situation is unwilling to be curious.
- Make an effort. Sometimes freeing an elephant can be simple; other times, it can be more complicated, but regardless of the type, freeing an elephant requires a genuine desire to improve the situation, even if that requires improving something about yourself.
- Take ownership. In every situation, everyone involved plays a role in the outcome. We can’t move forward if we’re unwilling to take ownership or we’re deferring ownership. It’s important to note that if we limit ownership to a title and only the leader is responsible for taking ownership of an elephant, we limit the team and the possibilities.
- Collaborate. Successful relationships are built on mutual trust and respect. A balanced relationship has to give and take. When someone believes that they alone can fix it, the focus turns to them instead of creating a collaborative solution to free the elephant.
- Be willing to change. Solving problems requires us to take risks, get messy, tinker and experiment, and step into the unknown. This sometimes means our hypothesis won’t be correct, but to find out what is right, we might first have to be wrong.
In my experience, when one of these stumbling blocks is present, new elephants can emerge because of the actions and reactions of the people involved. Suppose we don’t navigate these moments effectively. In that case, people can increase their avoidance behavior because of how a person (or people) on the team reacted, and we create breeding grounds for more elephants to emerge.
It’s important to note that at the start of an attempt to free an elephant, it’s not uncommon for someone to be unwilling to be curious, make an effort, take ownership, collaborate, or be wrong, and then evolve their stance.
In one of my first consulting meetings with a CEO, she stated emphatically, “I’m not going to change, so don’t try to change me.” Eventually, as she saw the potential in making changes to her management style, she was receptive to the work.
As I often say, people don’t fear change; they fear loss.People don't fear change; they fear loss. Click To Tweet
The initial fears of loss and resistance are expected and aren’t the issue. The pattern of sustained unwillingness makes it difficult, if not impossible, to resolve a situation correctly.
Want more in-depth information on how to solve difficult workplace problems? Don’t Feed the Elephants! , my #1 Amazon Best-Selling book, is out now, and provides you with the confidence and tools to identify, address, and free the elephants in the room.