I was recently facilitating a meeting involving leaders and individual contributors when an awkward situation happened. The meeting is just a bi-weekly check-in for the group in which to we come to agreements on procedures, update each other on projects, and inform one another about future problems we should tackle. It’s an open forum format and during this meeting I only had about 3 agenda items.
One of the individual contributors asked the group if we had communicated a specific change in procedures to our respective teams yet. Another leader proceeded to talk about the details of the change and shared their opinions about the change as well. The individual contributor politely interrupted and said something to the effect of, “It’s just a yes or no question, because I need to know if I need to send a mass communication to the department”. The leader then proceeded to again talk about the change and share their opinions. After a couple of minutes, the same contributor spoke up, with more force (again, paraphrasing), “It’s a **** yes or no answer. That’s all you have to do is give me a **** yes or no”.
The awkward silence that followed, felt like 5 minutes, but in reality, was probably about 5 seconds. I immediately replied that I have not communicated this information to my team but committed to notifying my team by the end of the week, gained agreement from the rest of the leaders that they would do the same, and I then moved on to the next agenda item. My reasoning was that I didn’t want to devote anymore time to what had just happened and risk having this completely monopolize our time together.
Now, what you as a leader do after the incident is the most valuable in terms of ensuring that team cohesion isn’t damaged and that this doesn’t happen again. I first addressed, with empathy, the person who lost their temper. I want to see how they are doing, as often times flare ups like this are born from experiences outside of the situation itself. I want to hear their reasoning for reacting in that way and how they feel about what transpired. Finally, I communicate how this incident took away from our intended purpose for the meeting and gain their agreement that this was unprofessional and cannot happen again. I then talk with the person that this happened to and again, with empathy, check in with them and listen to their perspective of the event. I do share that I spoke with the other party and gained their commitment to preventing future similar incidents.
Is there anything you would have done differently or that may have missed? Would you have addressed this right then and there? These types of situations can always be uncomfortable but doing nothing and hoping it goes away on it’s own is not a viable solution.