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What would Brani do?

How to deal with five common workplace challenges

Actually, of course, no one's got everything right about working with people, especially not me! And a lot of what I'm sharing here is what I've learnt from my own mistakes as a digital lead.

Through coaching and mentoring I often hear about the workplace challenges digital leads experience. So here's a selection of scenarios which, if you work in digital, will feel painfully familiar.

First, read the scenario, then pause for a moment to reflect on what you would do in that situation. Then read on. The scenarios are all different, but there's a common theme… see if you can spot it!

Scenario one

You're at a meeting, and you're talking to someone more senior than you whose support is vital for your project's success. You're pretty sure they don't get what you're saying, but you don't want to dig too deep to clarify because you're afraid they would disagree with you and obstruct you getting to your desired outcome.

Yes, it takes time and yes, it will likely slow down your project, but it is so important that your colleague understands your proposal. A good way of making sure that they do is to gently ask: "Just to make sure that everything I said made sense, what's the top line that you're taking from this?" And then – listen intently and deeply. What are they actually saying? Are they really getting how this will impact them and their team?

You can also ask them what would be the ideal outcome for them. Again, make sure to properly listen to their answer. Hush the voice in your head which is judging everything they say and be curious about what's behind their thinking. Forget about your objectives. Immerse yourself in theirs.

Once you've heard where they want to go, explore where you agree and how you can meet halfway on the things you don't. What you can both do in order to get to the shared ideal together.

I know what you're thinking – I know all this in theory but it's very hard in the heat of the moment! True. But it gets easier with practice. To begin with, practice deep listening, be curious about how people come to a conclusion or a view. Make an active attempt to understand their perspective.

Scenario two

You have an innovative new solution to a major challenge, but you have a colleague who's been at your organisation for ages and who is old fashioned and suspicious of new ways of doing things. Although they aren't strictly senior, they have a lot of sway, and they seem to be spreading doubt about your idea.

The first thing that comes to mind here is respect. Everyone deserves respect, even though they may be different to you and have different values. If you're being disparaging about them in the pub over a drink, that attitude will seep out in the office. You may not realise it's happening but they certainly will!

Second, take your preconceptions and judgements out of the picture and assess the facts. Do you know that they have old-fashioned attitudes, or that they're suspicious of you, or your project? All they've done is talk about your project in a certain way. You can't know their motivations.

Third, have an open conversation with them. Instead of phrasing your questions negatively ("What's concerning you?") ask them what the ideal scenario is for them. Then move the conversation onto your respective roles in making that a reality.

Scenario three

You're on a project team that needs to integrate, but you keep pulling in different directions. There are lots of different roles, so you've got people looking at the same problem from slightly different perspectives. The team isn't gelling and there's a lot of tension.

This situation requires a very honest team discussion. It's essentially about sharing a vision, good project management and clear division of responsibilities.

It also comes down to the question: are you integrating your work (where everyone is working to the same objectives and delivering for the project, rather than their own team) or coordinating (where each team makes an attempt to join up in some areas but largely keeps their own objectives)?

Often teams will say that they are integrating their work while they are actually only coordinating their respective objectives and KPIs.

So what do you do? Call it out. Be honest, say what you see (without judgement), e.g. "I'm noticing that people come to project meetings to ensure that their smaller project is included in the plan and it's not always clear to me how that smaller project contributes to the overall objectives we all signed up to. The impact this has on me/my team is...What I/we need is... It would help me/my team if you..."

Scenario four

You've got an idea which you think is strong but you don't have the confidence to sell it to senior management. You feel as if you never have the belief in your own ideas, even when they're good ones.

This is very common. Usually there is a saboteur somewhere in our heads saying: "You're crap, you haven't got a clue, you're a chancer and you'll be found out!" Try to turn the volume down on that inner critic, filtering out the meanness.

Notice how I didn't say "get rid of the critic"? Questioning yourself from time to time can be good as it can keep you sharp. But it's not useful if it takes you to the point of paralysis. What you have to say is relevant and important!

So before you present your ideas, be prepared. What are the questions that senior management are going to ask?

Avoid showing up at a presentation where what you're saying is going to be totally new to all of the people there. Make sure that someone around the table has already seen your idea, is supportive, and has given you advice.

Scenario five

You're feeling disempowered because decisions about your work are being made above your head all the time, even though they directly involve and affect you.

It's best to be factual and avoid judgment in your language. For example, avoid telling your manager that they are undermining and disrespecting you. After all, you can't know what they are thinking.

The only facts you have are how you feel and what you need to feel better. Always be aware that the person sitting opposite you also has emotions. And don't belittle yourself by saying: "Maybe I'm paranoid" or "Maybe I misunderstood" if you don't think that. Always speak with integrity.

Then, bring the conversation around to what you need to be happier and more successful in your job. In this case, for example, you need an understanding of the decisions that are being made at senior level so you can respond to those last-minute requests.

If you often end up feeling undermined at work, interrogate that closely. For example, you might assume that managers think you are stupid, or not strategic enough. Why do you think this? When does it usually happen? Is there a tactic that you can use to change your response to this situation? Some people find that strategies such as mindfulness help them keep calm and think about themselves more positively.

Next steps

These scenarios are varied, but most of the solutions have something in common. They require you to listen deeply and respectfully, taking time to understand what people are saying. These advanced soft skills are crucial to surviving and thriving as a digital leader.

If you're interested in developing yourself as a leader, come to the Digital Leadership Forum on 8-9 May 2019 in London. Now in its sixth year, the forum is for anyone who is leading some aspect of digital change in their organisation, at any level. You don't have to have digital in your title to qualify!

If you've been before, make sure you come again because every year is different. Let me know if you're interested – it would be great to have you there.