I saw the eyes rolling. The elbow jabs. The comments being whispered back and forth. The shaking of heads with ‘you just don’t understand’ smiles on faces. I noticed the comments shared with the group were more of the ‘Here’s why this won’t work’ variety rather than ‘I’ve tried what you just shared, and this is what happened’.
The scene: a half-day leadership development session.
The ‘characters’ offering the behaviors noted above: two of the group’s 25 participants.
It’s not uncommon. I know when I begin working with an organization there will typically be some naysayers in the group. They have no reason to trust me at that point as they don’t know me at all. For some, resentment sets in as their valuable time is filled with professional development rather than their day-to-day responsibilities.
And even though I realize that part of my job is to help leaders see things in a potentially new and different way, the cynics were, for a long time, ‘background noise’ I allowed to get in my way.
The Ping Pong Game
I’d continue with the program I’d created for the group while part of my brain focused on the off-putting communication—verbal and nonverbal– of the naysayers. In my mind, I’d bounce back and forth between ‘That participant’s comment was so valuable for the group to hear’ and ‘I wish the skeptics would at least try to be part of this opportunity’.
The bouncing act was like a ping pong game of competing thoughts in my brain as I led programs. Even though I knew my goal was to focus on the interested leaders in front of me, that ping pong ball would bounce me back to those who showed me they weren’t on board with the topics being discussed.
Do you experience this type of mental ping pong game? As you work to lead your team most effectively, how do the naysayers, the cynics, the skeptics affect you? And are you yourself ever the loudest naysayer?
The Self-Awareness to Stop the Game
For me, I knew the ping pong game was happening and also knew I no longer wanted to play that game. When I learned about my top Saboteur tendencies after taking the Positive Intelligence assessment, my unwanted ping pong game came to an end.
According to the Positive Intelligence methodology, Saboteurs are the voices in your head that generate negative emotions in the way you handle life’s everyday challenges. They cause stress, anxiety, self-doubt, frustration, restlessness, and unhappiness. In addition to the Judge (let’s call him the CEO of the Saboteurs), there are nine accomplice Saboteurs.
My loudest Saboteur is the Stickler. Because of my Stickler tendencies, I constantly strive for perfection causing me to be highly critical of both myself and others for not attaining perfection. All the time. Like when I get to create and share a leadership development session but focus on the cynics and my self-criticism rather than on the incredible honor of supporting a group of impressive leaders.
The impact of self-awareness and understanding of your top Saboteur tendencies is that you get to catch yourself ‘in the act’, or said another way, in the mental ping pong game you may unwittingly be playing. Then you get to decide how you’d prefer to move forward. My recommendation: leave the ping pong paddle behind.
The naysayers I described earlier weren’t in a session I led a few years ago. They were in a session I led last week.
Here’s the win: their behavior didn’t cause me to begin that old mental ping pong game. Instead, I saw that Stickler who always wants to be the loudest voice in my brain, and I called him out for what he is—a voice that works to keep me small and stuck in criticism of myself and others. Definitely not where I spend my time anymore.
When you’re ready to quiet the voices in your brain that try their best to keep you in that small, stuck place, I encourage you to follow these steps:
- Take the free Positive Intelligence assessment to learn about your top Saboteur tendencies.
- With that added awareness, catch yourself when you want to reach for that ping pong paddle and remind yourself why you no longer play that game.
- Develop thoughts and practices to override your past Saboteur tendencies. For example, if your Hyper-Achiever Saboteur is encouraging you to say ‘yes’ to one more thing, practice the art of respectfully declining. And know that your ‘no’ is a powerful step away from your Hyper-Achiever.
The mental ping pong game happens for everyone although the voices we hear (the Saboteur tendencies) aren’t the same for us all. Doing the work to quiet those voices is just one step in adding to your leadership self-awareness. Tune in next month for self-awareness tool 2!