Several years ago, I started wondering about a coworker of mine. I wondered if maybe she just preferred to lie, rather than tell me the truth.
I’d ask her to do a particular task and she’d seem hesitant. Then, I’d explain why it needed to be done and she’d agree to it.
The problem is, she’d never do it.
Worse yet, after the task was supposed to be done, she’d send me an email telling me it wasn’t done and it was too late now. It was extremely frustrating, to say the least.
Here’s another: I was 2,000 miles away from home on vacation, and I purchased some items from a store that they agreed to ship to me.
Two and a half weeks, five emails, and four phone calls later, I still didn’t have my packages.
The store set the expectation that they’d deliver the packages, but they never shipped them. They violated that expectation. Maybe the same kinds of things have happened to you.
Maybe you’ve worked with a coworker who doesn’t pull their weight.
Maybe you know people who agree to do things but never follow through.
Maybe there’s a performance issue.
Maybe there’s some kind of gap.
The Downward Spiral
When we see a problem or a gap, we sometimes think that speaking up will only make the situation worse. It may lead to silence or violence from the other person and the relationship will deteriorate. So, we decide to keep quiet and the problem gets worse.
Then, we get frustrated and we turn to an attitude of violence. When that doesn’t work we move back to silence. It turns into an ugly downward spiral that can ruin our relationships and results.
When we don’t step up and hold those crucial confrontations, it costs us.
Awhile back, I was fortunate enough to be working with a large healthcare firm that had five acute care facilities. In the course of my discussions with their employees, I met Norma.
Norma was a wonderful woman. She started as a floor nurse in surgery at their largest hospital several decades ago and was now the director of all their operating rooms.
In our discussions early on, Norma confided in me. She said, “I’m stuck. I’m not getting the results I need. I have two long-term OR nurses. One’s been here 20 years and the other for 30 years. They’re incredibly skilled nurses, but they’re incompetent in their people skills and it’s created problems between them and their coworkers. I know if I try to address the problem, things will only get worse and they’ll turn to violence.”
Fortunately, the health care firm was implementing Crucial Confrontations in their hospitals.
Norma attended the two-day class, and we quickly learned that Norma had been choosing silence. She wasn’t saying anything to the problematic nurses.
When she chose silence, several things happened.
First, she became a silent colluder by allowing that behaviour to continue.
It also looked like Norma was playing favorites. She was telling herself ugly stories and the situation continued to get worse. In Norma’s mind, she was a victim, the two long-term OR nurses were villains, and she was helpless to do anything about it.
Norma and I talked through some of the issues and I wished her luck as I left.
“These skills are like magic”
Thirty days later, I returned to the hospital and ran into Norma in the hall. She pulled me aside and said, “You’ll never guess what happened! I had that conversation and it couldn’t have gone any better. We stayed in dialogue, and even though they may have been hurt or frustrated, they didn’t turn to violence with me. I was confident we’d get through it. I also approached the conversation with humility because I knew how I approached them would dictate their reactions.”
She said, “Thank you! I can’t believe it actually worked. These skills are like magic!”
What was so important to me was not that skills worked. I already know that. I’ve seen winning situations in organisations that never believed change was possible.
For me, the most important thing was watching someone with very little courage in confrontations learn the skills and gain confidence in their ability to get results.
The solution we’re after is to learn to rapidly improve results and relationships by confronting broken promises, violated expectations, and bad behaviour.
In our studies, we looked at one company and found that an increase of 18% in attempted use of Crucial Confrontation skills correlated to an over 40% improvement in productivity.
We also found that a 22% increase in the use of the skills led to an over 30% increase in quality, almost a 40% increase in productivity, nearly a 50% drop in costs, and morale improvement of 20%!
Those are phenomenal results!
Later on, I had the chance to talk to the CEO of Norma’s hospital and we discussed Norma’s success story.
I asked the CEO, “Can you put a price tag on how much it saved the hospital by retaining these two OR nurses?”
He looked at me and said, “I could talk about the costs of bad morale, low productivity, and recruiting new nurses, but right now that’s not what I’m concerned about. What’s so important to me is that that I’ve retained 50 years of OR nursing experience. I don’t think I could put a price tag on that.”
To me, that’s the big win.
If you practice these Crucial Confrontation skills, you get out of the dangerous, downward spiral of silence and violence. You can step up and hold the confrontation and get different and better results.