Row of dominoes on table with hand stopping them from falling

How reacting to others can be seen as aggressive

How do you feel when you hear negative feedback about your behaviour? Especially when the complaint comes from the person you feel is at fault?

As a leader, you are expected to role model certain behaviours. But this isn’t easy when team members speak over you or appear to challenge your authority in front of the rest of the team.

This recently happened to a client of mine. He shared in a leadership workshop how he’d received negative feedback from his manager after a team member had complained. The team member reported that my client’s behaviour was aggressive during meetings. My client felt this was unfair as this person regularly interrupts and challenges him whenever he speaks.

Jumping, not thinking

When something like this happens, I normally encourage clients to look at their own behaviour or reflect on their practice. We dug a little deeper.

My client shared how he was filled with dread before the meeting. He was becoming irritated by this person’s behaviour. He found himself reacting by jumping in when the other person started to speak for him. After all, it was his update this person was trying to share!

He could see how the other person appeared to encourage him to jump in. Feeding off his defensive behaviour, he’d use his reaction to draw attention to themselves. Although my client’s negative reaction wasn’t intentional, he saw how this could be interpreted as aggressive.

To say there were lightbulb moments is an understatement! My client openly considered this situation with the group. He realised not only the impact it was having on him, but also how his reaction was experienced by other people. Interestingly, the other members of the group had had similar experiences and understood how he felt. Collectively they then wanted to know how they could change this pattern, which was destructive for both the leader and his team.

Are you reacting or responding?

As a group, we started by looking at how a considerable part of our lives is spent reacting to others and to events around us. We explored how we can get annoyed or irritated in our daily lives, and the negative impact that can have. While reacting, we rarely think about the long term effects, and usually manage to make things worse.

In contrast, it’s possible to respond to others and events around us. Instead of reacting without thinking, we can look at the situation, notice how we feel, and actively choose the best way forward. A considered response allows you to consider your well-being and that of the others involved. The group realised that in a situation like this, their focus was on the other person. It was focused on what they were doing, what they were saying, and how they were saying it. However, the choice of whether to react or respond was theirs.

As a leader, you have a choice

You can allow your initial reaction to compound the situation, forcing the unpleasant cycle to whirl out of control. Or take a deep breath, and thoughtfully consider your response.

The leaders discussed how they could prepare themselves to thoughtfully respond instead of reacting as they usually do. They explored the idea of a mental ‘warm-up.’ This involved:

Two weeks later, I met up with the leader who had initially shared this issue with the group. He shared how the ‘warm-up’ had allowed him to have more presence in the meeting and feel more in control. During meetings, when the team member shared something the leader was going to share, my client ‘sat on his hands and put his brain in gear’. He chose to stay quiet while the other person waited for a reaction. He did this before thanking them for sharing the information, and continuing with his update.

Making the switch from reacting without thinking, to preparing and thoughtfully responding starts with giving yourself the space to ‘warm up’ and remind yourself you have a choice. Although you can only change your own behaviour, making the right choices can lead to the other person choosing their response, too.

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You can’t be a great leader, if you’re not a great you.

Andrea helps you focus on leading yourself first, so you can be a great leader. Start getting your regular dose of leadership tips and inspiration with the ‘Leadership Breather’ – encouraging you to give yourself a breather and take 5 minutes for you.

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