When walking away is powerful

Have you ever fancied just giving up and leaving?  A tricky meeting, another difficult argument with your business partner or a commercial problem that simply feels too hard to solve?  We all have but most of us tend not to act on it; not all the time anyhow.  You don’t get to run a business successfully by walking out every time it gets hard!

This may sound a little Reginald Perrin-like but it’s true.  Successful entrepreneurs get results by sustained and energetic commitment – by facing obstacles head on and building resilience to deal with difficult people and tricky problems.  Businesses only get started through dogged hard work and full-on commitment and only survive usually by doing the same better than others.  But sometimes walking away is the right thing to do and totally aligned with your priority commitment.  In fact, instead of being the weak action, walking away can be the most powerful and transformational thing you can do and can lead to surprising results.  This article describes a four-step methodology to dealing with resistance which illustrates how this can happen.

Changing Behaviours

Let’s imagine you are wanting someone in your business to change the way they are behaving.  Perhaps they are being too abrasive with clients, or too distracted by unimportant activities.  You have given them feedback but there has been no change.  They don’t seem bothered and they are resistant to your request.  The first thing to see is how natural this resistance is.

Do you recall someone telling you to do something you did not want to do?  Parents do it a lot – work colleagues less often – probably because it’s a rather ‘parental’ thing to do.  Do you recall that feeling you get?  It shows up as anger, frustration, defensiveness, upset, silence or resignation – none of which is very helpful or pleasant.  It takes something to bring yourself back to a place of creativity, positive thinking and calm.  For some people this can take just a few minutes, others can take years!  This is a natural resistance, and a helpful form of self-protection you might think, but it can be difficult to break through.  After 25 years of working with difficult feedback by coaching senior leaders on their 360-degree feedback data, this technique emerged which allows you to handle this resistance with accelerating steps.  With this approach you will not need to pressure or push aggressively but instead you will find people magically doing what you need them to.

Here are the four steps:

  1. Listen hard and reflect back their position

Listen to what they are saying and what they are not saying.  Listen for their fears and concerns and question their reasoning and their assumptions.  This takes an intention to explore beyond anything else.  Once you have heard their true position you can then reflect this back to them with accuracy and respect.  They will have been heard and understood.  This may be enough and their resistance may fall away but, if not, then go to level two.

  1. Question and challenge in relation to their personal goals

In order to do this, you need to be clear on their goals so this may need checking or discussion first.  This in itself may be appreciated!  Once clear you can then connect the request you have with these goals.  Perhaps they want the business to grow?  Or perhaps they want less stress at work?  Whatever it is, you can ask how “being abrasive with clients” for instance, fits with these goals.  Asking this question may be all you need to do for their guard to come down but, if not, you can go to the next step.

  1. Share your own personal experience and to explain and describe the impact on you

By telling them that you feel embarrassed or ashamed for instance might now help; as might sharing how you think the client would feel faced with their behaviour.  You need to deliver this message clearly and dispassionately, as if it is an observation not an upset.  It is more direct perhaps than you might normally be so usually it works shockingly well and gives them food for thought but the hard nuts will withstand even this and require you to go to level four.

  1. Threaten to walk away; and be ready to follow it through

This is bold and risky, but it works!  It works because you are accepting their commitment – they are clearly more committed to being abrasive than they are to you.  Timing is key with this.  It is only powerful when it is done mid-way through a process, not at the beginning (when you have the other conversations to try first anyhow) and not at the end as your action to walk away does not obviously change things.  Once again, you need to be calm and clear, not upset or cross and then explain “I’m not sure it is worth our time and energy continuing like this – I suggest we call it a day and part as friends,” and then literally get up and walk away.  This is then a crucial moment – they will either accept it happily and you part as friends, or they will change position and work with you further.  Only stay if you are inspired to – you don’t have to.  Either way you leave in a powerful position and a new dynamic is created.  Both of you have been valued and your commitments are not aligned.  Time to move on.

You may be used to getting your way at work but there may be occasions when you struggle with an individual or a team.  So, when you detect a lack of openness or resistance to what you want, try this step-by-step approach to ensure everyone is clear about your wishes and leaves with you, or without you, and everyone is left feeling valued and respected.  Powerful leaders create ‘followship’ not ‘followers.’
Elva Ainsworth is the founder and CEO at Talent Innovations.  She is also a leading author and expert in feedback and supports organisations in introducing continuous and 360 feedback processes.  She is a published author of several books on the subject including ‘Reboot your Reputation’ which has just been published