Who is making up your mind for you? - Michelle Gibbings

Consider this scenario…

You’ve just been appointed to a new leadership position and you are excited about the opportunity, looking forward to meeting the new team and relishing the chance to demonstrate your value by making changes and getting progress underway.

At this point, there’s one unexpected thing that can derail your progress, which may surprise you.

And that’s listening to the opinions of colleagues and peers about the people in your new team.

Humans gossip – all of us; so don’t think you are immune to this character trait. We love to share stories, and there’s no better story to share than one about a person we have worked or interacted with.

As soon as you take on board a new team to lead people will provide (usually unsolicited) comments about team members. They’ll share, for example, who they like, who you should trust, who works hard and who doesn’t, who’s a team player, and so on.

I’ve seen this happen countless times throughout my career. While the person’s intent in providing the feedback is usually not malicious (and may even be shared with the goal of being helpful), it sadly isn’t helpful.

The problem with all these data sources is that they are opinions. Opinions based on that person’s experience with the team member, which is filtered through their specific standards, expectations and bias. Many of which could be different to your own.

More often than not I found that a person’s opinion of a team member turned out to the be the exact opposite of my experience.

This is because people respond and react differently to different styles of leadership. Some people who thrive under one style of leadership, will be challenged by another style.

Consequently, when you take a colleague’s comments at face value, aren’t willing to suspend judgement or make up your own mind, you’ll be left with a raft of potentially invalid assumptions and unfair characterisations, which can negatively impact how you relate to the team member.

As well, you are denying yourself the opportunity to forge a relationship based on your experience and interactions.

It is also very hard to ‘unhear’ negative feedback.

So, even if you do try and suspend judgement you may unconsciously have your thoughts impacted by what you’ve heard earlier; particularly if the feedback provided came from someone you trust and admire.

What’s the best approach to take?

  • Be wary of unsolicited feedback from friends, colleagues and peers
  • Be ready and willing to advise colleagues that you want to hold off hearing thoughts about the team until you have been in the role for a period of time
  • Be deliberate about when you seek feedback on team members
  • Consider whether advice and opinions are going to help or hinder your ability to build a successful working relationship with team members
  • Be willing and ready to suspend judgement

Musician Trevor Rabin said: “You can’t judge an album by a single song; it’s like judging a book by only reading a single chapter“. I would say the same applies to people. You can’t judge a person by a single interaction or piece of feedback.

Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®.

Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian.  Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them get fit for the future of work. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’ and ‘Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate Your Career’. For more information: www.michellegibbings.com or contact michelle@michellegibbings.com.

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