Monday, February 7, 2011

Be Reasonable: 3 tips to Ensure You are Being Reasonable

Are people generally fair and reasonable?  

If you go with your gut on this one, you will more than likely say yes. I would whole heartily agree with you. People naturally have a sense of fairness. If we agree on this point then why do so many of us respond to our employees as though they will not be reasonable?  I want to acknowledge right up front that there are indeed exceptions to this rule, but if one out of ten people are not reasonable why do we treat all ten as though they were not? It kind of sounds like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  In my experience one of the surest ways to get in a fight is to start throwing punches. Think about it a minute. If you approach people in a way that says I don't trust you, that you don’t think they will be fair and reasonable with you, they naturally respond in like kind-they won't trust you either. And who could blame them. You started it! Now on the other hand, if your starting position was that they were bright, intelligent, fair, and reasonable people, how do you think most of them would respond?  Absolutely, in like kind.  And maybe even the unreasonable people would respond favorably. Again in my experience, most people who are difficult to get along with are that way because they are hurting inside themselves. If anything's going to reach them, it will probably be a little unmerited respect. To reframe this another way, people who don't respect themselves have real difficulty respecting others. At the end of the day isn't that what most of us really want is to be respected by both ourselves and others.

Okay back to reasonableness.  At this point you would like to totally buy-in to the discussion about reasonableness but you're still not sure you can trust people at that level. Let me give you some practical tips on how to make the reasonable nature of people work for you instead of against you.

Tip #1. Ask the person you're dealing with what they think would be reasonable?  
Many of the business owners and leaders I work with think this is a high risk question. It's not. People consistently ask more of themselves and are willing to do more than you would ever dare to ask of them yourself if they are the one’s doing the asking.  It's back to that self-respect thing. If it is a controversial pushing and shoving match, each party is going to try to take all they can get.  In that approach you both end up with a whole lot less than you could have had if you openly worked together.

Tip #2. Bring others into the conversation. 
Something as simple as let's get Bob's, or the rest of the team’s, opinion usually ups the ante on your willingness to be flexible and helps minimize personal factors that may play into the conversation.  It's one thing if a single individual in your organization feels like you're not being reasonable, it's a much bigger deal if everyone feels like you're being unreasonable. This is one of those things that is much better out in the open that it is hidden in the back room. As a leader you need to know if your people think you are fair and reasonable. You might be asking yourself can I really trust the crowd about what is fair and reasonable. We do it every day in our legal system. Twelve people literally decide issues of life and death in the form of a jury.  In my experience, if your people, by and large, think you are unreasonable and you probably are.

Tip #3. Don’t be quick to act.  
Quality relationships take time and effort. If someone feels like you're genuinely being unreasonable with them or vise-a-versa, I would encourage you to give the situation some time and space. It's easy to make a rash decision in the heat of the moment. When it comes to relationships things are rarely ever black and white. Take the pressure off all the parties and sleep on it for a night or two. I can't tell you how many times that space and room has allowed me and others to work things out for each other's benefit.  And don’t be surprised if you are implementing these tips and you are truly being reasonable, your employee or subordinate returns to you and says that they do indeed think you are being fair and reasonable. 

I have to wonder if the most important issue around reasonableness for an organizational leader is whether or not we are willing to be reasonable with our people.  The world we see is simply a reflection or mirror of the world that exists inside of us. What does it say about us if we don't think our employees are reasonable?  At the end of the day, the only leader who needs to be afraid of shared reasonableness is the leader who is not themselves willing to be reasonable.

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