I can think of few situations worse than to feel as though you are held hostage by a leader who gossips and continues to draw you into the circle.
The power differential between the two of you can make it so that you fear telling them you are uncomfortable talking about others. You may worry about backlash, both short-term and long term.
And with good reason.
At the same time, you feel slimy by sitting and listening. One thing you can count on – if this leader is bad mouthing others to you, he is also bad mouthing you to others.
You can feel trapped and helpless.
But there’s a way to redirect this kind of conversation without making the other person feel affronted.
You can step out of this dynamic in most cases with the following steps:
1. Acknowledge their frustration.
Focus on your leader’s emotion or frustration about the other person’s behavior and attune to this.
Example: Your leader says, “Sally is so irresponsible. I can never count on her to give me an accurate report. Makes us all look bad.”
Here is where you avoid colluding.
Focus on the frustration the leader is feeling and the behavior or results he would want to see instead.
Example: “You sound really frustrated. I guess I’d be frustrated, too, if I felt like I wasn’t getting accurate numbers.”
2. Redirect their attitude to one of problem-solving.
Example: “How you have handled these situations in the past? Is there someone in learning and development who could help train them on this?”
3. Exit the conversation with a closure statement.
In conflict resolution, we would stay, “step out of the triangle” (conflict) so that you are no longer a part of it.
Here’s an example of a closure-to-exit statement:
“It sounds like you’ve figured out how to get the results you want. That’s great!”
Or, “It sounds like there might be room to explore how to train people in situations like that.”
By taking this three-step approach, you have effectively stepped out of a toxic situation.
If your leader cannot take a hint after you repeat this process a couple of times, then it’s time to reevaluate if this is someone for whom you can work. Your life and career are too short to give in to toxicity.
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Patti Cotton helps executives optimize their effectiveness in leading self, others, and the enterprise. Her areas of focus include confidence, leadership style, executive presence, effective communication, succession planning, and masterful execution. With over 25 years of leadership experience, both stateside and abroad, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across industries, providing executive consulting, leadership development, succession planning, change management, and conflict resolution. She is also an experienced Fortune 500 speaker. For more information on how Patti Cotton can help you and your organization, click here.