When a group of people set off on a river raft expedition, the initial launch site is called the “put in.” Recently, my husband brought together a group of 16 people, a year’s worth of planning, hundreds of travel miles and countless logistics to begin an epic raft trip through the Grand Canyon. At the put-in, he was met by the assigned park ranger named Peggy. Our friend Peggy carried a clipboard and an overzealous want of authority. Peggy’s mantra was: “No… What is the question?”
Park Ranger Peggy was doing her job. She needed to check all of the boxes on the sheets on her clip board to make sure this group of people met the requirements of setting off through the national Grand Canyon treasure. Peggy knew she had authority to make or break this trip, and made sure the group knew that too. She held the investment of money, time and coordination of 16 people in her hands.
How often in the workplace, or in life, have you encountered a Peggy? I’ve experienced this many times with vendors, at the DMV and with the cable companies. The scenario is this: I need to get something done and the person (gatekeeper) can only operate according to script, follow every rule to the “t”, cannot see the forest through the trees and is not the least bit interested in solving any hiccups…and a little drunk with authority. For me, this scenario is maddening. Instantly I can feel my blood pressure rise and find it easy to move to a defensive posture. And I consider myself a professional that deals with people and behaviors regularly. Imagine how difficult this can be for our kids at home that do not yet have the tools to successfully manage situations with “box checkers” in authority?
Thinking about the experience with Put-in Peggy gives an opportunity to cover some tips when a situation arises with someone who holds authority over the situation, refuses to communicate logically and cannot see beyond the boxes they need to check. It is critical to future success to have these tools to guide through such situations. They are inevitable.
- Breathe: Take a deep breath and even tune out a little if you have to. Sometimes the opening statements given by the person are required and the person saying the words just needs to get them out. Listen patiently and tell yourself that you can take on this challenge and win by winning-over.
- Read the classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People”: This is the handbook to dealing with people in the workplace and in life. I think it should be required reading in high school. People can be the best part of a job…and the worst. Arm yourself with education. This human interaction blueprint is timeless; first published in 1936.
- You can only get someone to do something if they want to do it.
- You can’t win an argument.
- And how to get cooperation.
- Ask questions: By engaging the person to offer their own expertise, the conversation can switch from a dictative one to an interactive one. A better outcome will result.
- Admit fault: Be willing to throw yourself under the bus a little. This can ease any power struggles and allow the person continued authority but without any threat.
Learning to handle these situations calmly and smoothly can be a challenge but the long-term payoff is worth the extra efforts. Ultimately the winner is you.