Cold Shoulders

February 3rd, 2011

When you live in Texas and see news about snowstorms affecting other parts of the country, you think, “Glad that’s not us.” Until, of course, when the Super Bowl decides to come to DFW. Watching ESPN the past few days, folks across America could have been convinced the Lone Star State is frozen tundra during February. Even here in Houston – 270 miles to the south – they’re predicting several inches of snow over the next 24 hours.

It’s amazing how easily perceptions are embedded deeply in folk’s minds. In my coaching work with executives, I’ll interview a dozen people the client feels know him or her best, then share their quotes without attribution. Inevitably I’ll hear from the client, “That comment about me being condescending refers to one thing that happened a couple of years ago.” Yet there it is, a big enough issue to a team member that he felt the need to tell me about it during our 15-minute conversation.

While a single comment may or may not be relevant to a leader’s long-term success, understanding that supervisors, peers and direct reports have long memories is important. That quip you blurt out in a meeting that makes light of someone’s slip-up – the one everybody laughs at and you think is completely harmless – may have a lasting impact on your relationship with the object of your humor.

The snow in DFW will be forgotten once the NFL leaves town and temperatures rise; perceptions others hold of you aren’t so easily changed. So if your relationship with someone seems to be on ice, ask her what you did. If she tells you, apologize. Chances are it’s not too late to repair the misstep you don’t remember and warm up the chill in the air.

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