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If You Can’t Reason With People, Attack Their Heart

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Every leader has to deal with one of their employees who is a challenge; who is a high spirited “stallion” who pushes all our buttons — after all that’s one of the reasons we hired them.

I had the opportunity to work with such an individual who taxed me at every turn. Although I captured a glimpse of his “dark side” during the hiring process, I had no idea how dark it was.

From the moment I appointed him to his general manager role, every interaction was painful. Every conversation with him was a conflict moment; strained and extremely tense.

Every issue resulted in a protracted argument which left me exhausted and frustrated.

Our interactions constituted a battle zone

He was was literally un-coachable; choosing to go toe-to-toe rather than engage, collaborate and let me add value to help him. Everything was a battle.

He was extremely arrogant, choosing to not listen and do his own thing. In fact the situation worsened to the point he was upwardly condescending and demonstrated the same behaviour to my boss and my fellow executive colleagues.

On the positive side, he was an extremely bright individual with all the credentials and competencies that could enable him to move ahead in the organization. He was strong in finance and had an amazing grasp of technology and the capabilities it could provide from a marketing perspective.

He was passionate about his ideas and wanted to play a significant role in the company’s future — he was as upwardly mobile as they come.

As time passed, matters tanked. His colleagues and direct report team complained to me about his actions and even threatened not to work with him. And our relationship continued on a downward spiral.

Related: What Happens When Leaders Are Approachable

I wanted to avoid collateral damage

Left unbridled, he was surely going to crash and burn and leave road kill along the way.

I thought long and hard about the intervention I had to make.

In the end, I decided to NOT follow the more traditional approach of calling him into my office, reviewing his misdemeanours, and putting him on a “measured mile” to allow him to either get with the program or face the ultimate consequence of his actions.

I chose to simply tell him how I FELT about our relationship and how his behaviour impacted me personally. My strategy was not to ask him to do anything with the information I gave him; rather to just take it in and think about my what I had to say.

My logic was that he would be naturally inclined to debate the facts with me, but he could never debate my FEELINGS. They were mine and mine alone and could not be judged by anyone else as being either right or wrong.

I told him that I felt that he didn’t like me or respect me.

I appealed to his emotions

I told him that I felt disappointed that he was unwilling to accept my help as his coach.

I told him that I felt that we had no positive relationship at all, which saddened and disappointed me.

And I also told him that I expected nothing of him as a result of our conversation; that it was up to him to act on what I had to say or not.

My feelings declaration did more than knock the wind out of him, it crushed him emotionally. He had no idea how his style impacted me.

Sharing my feelings with him had an amazing impact on our relationship.

Overnight he turned from the dark side to the bright side not just for me but also for everyone around him. He had no idea that he affected others the way he had affected me.

He was happier, more productive and began making the contribution he was capable of making.

Sharing feelings. Appealing to the heart; not the mind.

Give it a shot.

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