On my first trip
canoe trip I remembered to bring a six-pack of my favorite beverage,
but had no way to keep it cool. It was a relatively hot day and the
sun was warming the cans quickly. I thought, "The water is a lot cooler
than the air, I'll just tie the cans onto the canoe and throw them overboard."
I did just that,
thinking the cans would follow along without resistance. Boy was I surprised!
It was as if I had thrown an anchor overboard. I could hardly move the
canoe forward at all.
Sometimes a member
of your team, let's call him or her the "terrorist", performs the same
function as that six-pack. They become an extremely effective anchor
that prevents the rest of the team from making progress, holding back
the whole canoe and everyone in it. It is tempting to just cut the line
(fire them), yet in today's litigious society, that is difficult. When
people get fired, they don't get mad or sad, they get a lawyer.
The way to get the
terrorist back in the canoe can be long and complicated. But it must
begin with a simple act on your part. Individuals live up to or down
to our expectations and right now your performance expectation for this
person is low.
Do you remember
Magic Slates from when you were a child, the toy you wrote on with a
wooden stylus and then lifted the page to erase it? Right now you have
a magic slate in your mind with your terrorist's name on it. What you
must do is "lift the page" and erase the negative history you have with
this person. This may be difficult for you, but is essential to start
the process of getting them back in the canoe with the rest of the team.
Once you have "lifted
the page", you must talk directly, assertively and honestly with your
difficult person. Go to them and say, "I know we have not had the best
relationship over the past several years. I'm willing to accept a significant
portion of the blame for this. I know you do a lot of good things for
this organization and I don't recognize those contributions. From now
on, when I see you doing something I think is good; I'm going to thank
you for it. Is that OK with you?"
Then it is up to
you to see things that person is doing that are praiseworthy and thank
them for it. Look hard, it doesn't have to be an earth shattering deed,
just something positive.
tells the story of his famous summit meeting with Ronald Reagan in Reykjavik,
Iceland. The meeting room was filled with many advisors from both sides
and was going nowhere. Each side was hurling accusations of reneging
on agreements that had been made in the past.
At this point, US
- Soviet relationships were not the best. Remember that President Reagan
called the Soviet Union the "Evil Empire."
Yet he recognized
they were not making any progress on proposals that were important to
both sides. So Reagan put aside his previous beliefs. He "lifted his
page" and said, "This is not working."
He asked if Gorbachev
would be willing to meet privately, without the advisors. Gorbachev
agreed and with just one translator for each present in the room, Ronald
Reagan stood, looked Gorbachev in the eye, extended his hand and said,
"Hi, my name is Ron. May I call you Mikhail?" They shook hands and that
was the beginning of the famous Reykjavik accord.
If this technique
can work at the highest geopolitical levels, it can work for your difficult
relationships too. Help your problem workers get back in the canoe and
you may just discover they are among the best paddlers.