How to overcome hostility to ideas or presentations
Not every employee is going to like your ideas. Sometimes you might even find that employees express hostility to your ideas. If this happens, you have a problem that has to be handled and the sooner the better. Hostility has a way of spreading and feeding on itself like a disease. You can have one hostile person on Monday and by Friday have your whole work force against you. Fortunately, hostility can usually be controlled.
Step 1: act as quickly as possible. As soon as you sense hostility, you should act on it. If you are giving a presentation and you notice signs like muttering or eye rolling, you have a problem. If you hear raised voices, you have a problem. Hostility doesn't usually start with threats and screams of rage. It usually starts with clenched jaws, sarcasm, and whispering. Stay tuned to these signs. The quicker you can deal with the beginning stages of hostility, the less likely you will be to have to deal with the final product.
Step 2: go right to the source. If someone has a problem, or you think someone might have a problem, with one of your ideas ask them about it. Giving a person the opportunity to air his or her displeasure might take care of your problem just like that. Sometime hostility comes from a feeling of powerlessness or a feeling of being unheard. Just listening to someone's complaints might reduce their feeling of frustration and their hostility.
When you interview a person who is expressing hostility, don't allow them to talk around in circles. Have them answer specific questions so you can determine the validity of their complaint. For example, say something like, "How do you think X will adversely affect you?" If your employees start speaking in generalities such as, "you always.." Ask for a specific example. This will help you to determine if they are just angry or if they really have a point.
Step 3: Use reflective listening. Reflective listening is the technique that many counseling psychologists use in therapy. To use reflective listening, you reflect what the speaker is saying back to them. For example, if John says, "Management never supports us and it's just stupid." You might respond back with, "I understand that you are frustrated because you feel like management doesn't support you, can you give me an example." Using a series of reflective statements and questions can help you relieve tension because the employee will know that they are being heard. Asking questions directs the conversation so that you don't just rehash the same stuff.
Step 4: Be firm. You are the boss. If you hear what the angry party has to say but you aren't going to change, say so. You can say something like, "I understand that this new idea upsets you but it is the way that we are going to be doing things. I'd be happy to listen if you have an idea for how we can make this change easier on you." If the person remains hostile, you might want to consider whether you want to maintain the employer/employee relationship or if they will be better off elsewhere.
Tips and warnings
Be on alert if an employee ever gets hostile enough to make threats or gets verbally abusive. There are workplace tragedies that occur all of the time and these tragedies usually are the result of a disgruntled employee or a disgruntled former employee. Do what you can to diffuse hostile emotions as to not escalate a person towards violence. If a person ever threatens violence, call the police.
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