How to Get Beyond Your First Assumption to Offer Growth Enhancing Accountability

Coach and Coaching


Recently I was presenting for an amazing group of Executive Directors on the topic of Accountability. We had time during the question period to explore some challenges that they were experiencing.

One E.D. mentioned a new employee who was speaking to the person beside her throughout a meeting. This E.D. had made an assumption of the team member’s behaviour which resulted in strong feelings of frustration. Yet, the E.D. had not spoken directly to the employee.

So what was really happening in this scenario? The story the E.D. created about the behaviour was that she was rude and disruptive. So based on this story, frustration and perhaps irritation is a natural response.

Personal Biases and Self-Awareness

What we needed to explore was the biases behind the assumption. Given that this was a new employee with a first time engaging in the behaviour, it is likely that some past experiences of the E.D. are creating the emotional charge and thus determining the “plotline” of the assumption. You see, when we have an emotion, our minds quickly step in to create a story that makes sense for us to have that emotion.

When you have a strong reaction to something ask yourself:

  • What am I assuming in this situation?
  • What personal past experiences might be impacting my viewpoint and emotional response?
  • How comfortable are you with conflict?

If you are like many leaders, you struggle with the fear of conflict. If so, get some coaching to help you shift this energy to that of comfort leaning into a challenging conversation.

Other Potential Realities

When you find yourself locked into one interpretation of the event, ask yourself what other possibilities are there?

For example, this employee may have been attempting to find out critical information so that she could follow along with the meeting. Perhaps she is a verbal processor who needs to talk to integrate information.
Perhaps she has a hearing challenge and was unable to hear what was being said and was asking someone closer.

When you create a list of possibilities, some which create the other individual (in this situation the staff member) to act positively; it’s easier to have the conversation to explore with them what was really happening in the meeting – and with decreased angst and increased compassion.

Have the Conversation (Situation + Behaviour + Impact)

Within a day or two, have a conversation with the employee while the situation is easy for them to remember. Then ask questions by simply pointing out the behaviour. “I noticed that you were talking to X in the meeting just now. I’m curious what was happening for you at that time?”

Allow the person to share their perspective with you. It will give you great insight into how they think and work. Then share your concern about the impact that people might be thinking you are rude or not paying attention. How can we help you to ensure this doesn’t happen in future meetings?

By creating a shared action plan, you are giving her guidance to grow vs. simply challenging or criticizing.

And that is the gift of Accountability – giving the other person the ability to grow into their full potential.

And remember, these techniques work for both praise and giving guidance for growth – and both are gifts!

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