27 November 2005

Leadership and intervening

Leadership means having to intervene. In all kinds of situations leaders are asked to be judge, police officer, motivator, coach etc. And there is more than one kind of intervention that can be used. You could act to protect the order. You could intervene to motivate someone of help him find his own inspiration. It can also be necessary to control the direction of a conversation. In the case of a conversation it can be handy to use an intervention model, that takes the different elements of a conversation as starting point.

The intervention model

Every situation in which humans communicate with each other, you can find four elements:
content, procedure, relation and emotions.
At certain moments during a conversation, one of the communication partners can make one of the four elements more important than the others. You could say, the partner wishes to change the subject of the conversation. Suddenly the procedure, the relation or the emotions are the subject of conversation.

The intervention wish

Often the leader is expected to answer the wish of his conversation partner to discuss one of the other three elements instead of the content with was the subject of conversation. And to answer that wish the leader has to address that wish, even when it is not expressed openly. Most of the time the leader has to read the wish from the reaction that is given by his conversation partner. For example: his partner reacts emotionally or shows behavior that is related to a certain position, that is not appropriate for the given conversation. Those are the moments that a leader should intervene. Often to prevent the conversation from escalating into an emotional battle. Sometimes to answer the others wish to address one of the elements. Which element should be addressed for the best result, is often however unclear.

A guideline for intervening is to react as soon as possible on a level of least importance. The goal is to prevent the need to intervene at a level that will be emotionally hurtful.
This means, that one could ask the other to follow a certain procedure during the conversation. P.e. when giving feedback use the following guidelines:
  • to tell first which behavior one has seen, without being judgmental.
  • secondly give your feelings, caused by the behavior.
  • then tell how the other can behave in such away, that it give you a positive feeling.
  • last you can also say what will happen if the behavior does not change.
If putting the procedure central does not work, it can be useful to talk about the relationship. This element is important to both parties and could lead to loss of face for both sides. It can be necessary to agree on the fact, that during the conversation both parties are equal, where outside of that situation there is a clear hierarchical relationship. For example during the conversation there is a coach/coached relation, where afterwards it is manager/employee.
If in the end the talks escalates out of the reach of a procedural and relationships intervention, one must address the emotions shown. It is important to take the emotions serious and not ask the other to stop being emotional, because it hinders the conversation. It will be necessary to give the emotional party the possibility to work through his emotions, which can be helped by expressing what you see in your own words. After that it probably will be possible to make procedural proposal. Especially if the emotions went deep it can be necessary to make a new appointment.

Intervening is not the easiest thing to do. It takes tact and empathy to make it work well. However not intervening and letting things snowball, will often hurt the relationship more in the long run, then trying the wrong intervention.

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