A few years ago, I was speaking at a conference where I also attended another session on communication. The presenter was singing the praises of having an Open Door Communication Policy when someone in the back of the room raised his hand.
He was upset. He stood up and said, “That open door communication policy is a bunch of baloney! I’ve tried a number of times to share something I thought was important and ended up being labeled ‘Not a team player‘. They really don’t want you to bring up any issues. They don’t take you seriously and I’ll never do it again!”
There was a long, long period of silence. Heads turned. A few people coughed. One or two took a risk and clapped.
I could see his point. There were a few times I took an issue “up the chain” and ended up suffering for it. But perhaps neither he or I presented our concerns in a constructive way. Were we just whiners who wanted the opportunity to complain? Were we willing to take responsibility to solve the problem before dumping it in someone else’s lap? Or did we truly get labeled by a leader who didn’t want to cope with another complaint?
I think there’s enough blame to go around. There are people who don’t know how to raise an issue respectfully or constructively. Then there are senior level folks who don’t know how to handle it when someone brings a legitimate concern to their attention. And yes, there are those who say that anyone who disagrees with the party line is NOT a team player, sending them straight to the Pit of Insignificance.
What if the person who raises the issue is not a bold, strong-willed kind of personality but more of a shy, meek, sensitive, caring type who doesn’t want to rock the boat? Speaking up is fraught with danger for them. They risk being shouted down, told they are overly sensitive or just making things up, or (here comes the death knell) NOT a team player? Will they ever speak up again? How will their silence then harm the relationship, prevent some new advancement, avoid something bad from happening, like the infamous “O” Ring debacle that doomed the Space Shuttle.
I had been thinking for quite some time about the dynamic tension that exists between two people: one person has a concern and wants to raise the issue, respectfully, but the other person believes they are being too critical. So I asked myself, where does one person’s right to voice their concerns end and the other person’s responsibility to hear them out and perhaps make a change begin?
So I created a communication model to help both sides face issues in a way that one person feels heard and the other can accept the message and do something with it. My CARLA Concept™ Model is simple and flexible and goes like this:
C – what was the challenge or change you faced?
A – what actions did you take?
R – what results did you get?
L – what lessons did you learn?
A – what’s another approach, now that you know what you know?
This is a template for how to get all the facts. If someone comes to you with a complaint, you can coach them through these steps to flesh out their concerns. It also subtly puts some personal responsibility back on their shoulders by asking what actions did they take and what results did they get? It helps the person who raises the issue think through their complaint before taking it public.
I think we all contribute to miscommunication in some way. There are people who should do their homework before camping on their supervisor’s doorstep. There are managers who need to listen more, take people seriously and stop pigeonholing people into the troublemaker category. Hopefully The CARLA™ Concept can help both sides.
What say you? Have you ever been labeled, “Not a team player?” How did it work out for you? Feel free to share your comments below.
NOTE: Laura (Benjamin) Lollar wrote and self-published The CARLA Concept handbook in 2005. She is revising and updating the book for publication in late 2019 or early 2020.