Soft Speed Bumps

Occasionally one of my marketing staff or one of my professional practice partners will take an action or go down a path when both I, and often they, know better.  For years this frustrated me.  How can someone I’ve trained to do something one way or who has agreed to do something one way and has for a while, suddenly get off track?  What I’ve learned is to watch out for what I call “soft speed bumps”.

Soft speed bumps are those deviations from the “norm” that happen not because the person doesn’t know what they should do, but because they’ve become emotionally or intellectually distracted in some way so they revert to a comfort zone that moves them off the path.  For example, I am not naturally detail oriented.  When I need to go over, for example, a proposal or a spreadsheet with a fine tooth comb, it requires all my resources of anal retentiveness (which are admittedly small to begin with) to accomplish the task successfully.  If I’m tired or stressed or overwhelmed, my detail orientation is the first thing to go.

The example I run into most often with professional practice staff comes up when they need to focus on strategy for a business development pursuit or proposal, and instead get fixated on redesigning the graphics in the document.  I understand that, as architects, design is in their comfort zone much more so than reaching out to a potential client to make a cold call or doing the research to find out what kind of strategy will give us the edge over a competitor.

When we run into soft speed bumps with our staff or our colleagues, our goal is to gently guide them toward the tasks we need them to do.   I find this requires three steps:

  1. Check in with yourself using your emotional intelligence.  When I start to get annoyed with someone, I first ask myself why I’m annoyed.  If I’m just cranky today, I let things go.  Then I check to make sure I have accurately communicated what I need to make sure I didn’t set them up to fail.  If neither of these is the case, I pull on my big girl pants and figure out how to respond like the professional I am.
  2. Check in with them using your emotional intelligence:  A simple, “How are you today?” or a “You seem distracted.  Everything OK?”, gives the person you’re talking to both a heads up and an opportunity to talk about it.  Sometimes, you learn what’s bugging someone and can help them let off a little steam so they can focus on the right task.  Even if they don’t share anything, it gently let’s them know they need to refocus.
  3. Figure out how to make the task manageable.   Seasoned marketers are usually  immune to the anxiety of the cold call and can do strategy in their sleep.  This is not true for professional practice staff or new employees.  I will see if I can help break a task down for them and ask questions to guide them in the right direction to make the task more manageable for now, which should also provide a sense of mastery that will lessen their anxiety for next time.

When we take the time to figure out why someone got off track, it is much easier to figure out how to effectively get them back to centered and back on track.


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