Healthy Debate or Just Plain Disruptive

While I try to get in an early morning workout during the work week, I try to commit more time on the weekends. I will usually take longer runs as part of these workouts. There is a trail not far from our home that I particularly like to take on these longer run mornings. During those runs, I come in contact with many others out running, riding, or walking. I speak to everyone I encounter. I make a point to look at each one and acknowledge and affirm them. Now, most people respond back, but some will just refuse and look the other way. Whether they respond or not, I am going to make sure everyone I come in contact with is acknowledged and affirmed. Most respond, but some don’t.

Leading others can be like that too. Most folks respond to leadership, but not everyone responds positively. Here are some thoughts on how to deal with those difficult situations (ok, I will say it…those difficult people).

1. Be sure you separate those cases where someone just as a different opinion on a subject from those that are just trying to be disruptive. Healthy debates are actually a good thing. People will have differing opinions from time to time. I don’t have any issue with someone bringing up a different view on a subject. I recall several instances of changing our plans based on other’s ideas being better than mine (I know, hard to believe right?). We need to have people with diverse backgrounds and experiences bringing up different ideas. The key is the healthy debate/discussion is calm, not self-seeking, and all parties have the aim to better the team.
2. Now, assuming it’s not a healthy debate issue, but rather a “just plain disruptive” behavior/individual that we are dealing with, the first key is to deal with the issue. If that behavior is impacting the team in any way, deal with it. If they are taking away from the right focus, hurting engagement, stirring up negativity, or just harming the team in any way, you have to address it. By ignoring it, you are hurting the team (that you are responsible for) and not doing your job (not to mention you just relinquished your role as leader). Address it or “give the keys” to someone that will!
3. So how do we address it? Typically, a disruptive person wants to do it in public to get attention. Don’t let this thing play out in public. Shut it down publicly, but solve it privately. Don’t engage in lengthy debate in a plant-wide meeting, department training session, or any other group gathering. End the disruptive discussion and move it to a private setting as soon as possible. By taking away the crowd, you have just taken away a big part of the motivation for disruption.
4. In the private (or more private setting) session, keep asking probing questions to get to the root/motivation of their issue. Stay away from personal judgements, attacks, or accusations. Stay focused on your team as a whole; what’s best for them. Use the term “we” when referring to team, plant, etc. Let the disrupter further isolate themselves in the conversation if they choose to. Your job is to lead in the best interest of your team. Remember, you are not trying to win an argument, you are actively listening to understand, but more so, conveying your key messages for your team and that continued disruptions are not helping the team succeed.
5. Put a time limit on the session and convey how much time each party will generally have to present their issues and/or responses. Time frames will require focused discussion and stay away from getting on side-bar issues.
6. Keep in mind, you aren’t going to rid the world (or your plant) of disruptive people. You do need to ensure that they don’t undermine or hurt your team in any way. The key is to not let this person’s disruptive behavior distract the team or you from what needs to be done in the facility. Sometimes getting closer to them will help, while other times isolating them and giving them little attention is the way to go. There is no one answer for this issue. Just embrace it as one of the challenges of leadership!
7. Don’t go it alone. Get others involved and seek advice. You would be surprised at what others have gone through and learned along the way.
8. By all means, don’t spend all your time focused on a disruptive individual and lose the entire facility’s focus. Address the issue, but don’t be consumed by it!

Just to recap:
1. Healthy debate or just plain disruptive?
2. If disruptive then do something.
3. Direct it publicly to a private session to solve.
4. You aren’t out to win an argument.
5. Set time limits.
6. Embrace the challenge.
7. Seek counsel.
8. Address, but don’t be consumed!

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