Leadership Advice: Avoid the Extreme Response

Like many families, much of our summer was spent keeping our kids engaged in activities. We want them active, outside, and off screens as much as possible. For our son, that meant sleep away camp for the first time, as well as an engineering design class, and some sailing. For our daughter, that also meant some sailing, along with two rounds of day camp: two weeks at one camp in Connecticut, and two weeks at another in Rhode Island. 

For our daughter, unfortunately, the first camp experience didn’t go well. It’s a good camp, well regarded by several people we know… but for her, it was too big and overwhelming. In fact, we ended up bailing out before her two weeks were even finished. It was just too much for her, and the idea of going back for even another day was causing some pretty strong reactions. So we ended it after the first week. 

That experience then led to a problem with the second camp… she was dead set against going back to camp, any camp, even though this was going to be an entirely different experience. We knew this second camp well, it is MUCH smaller than the other one, and our son had gone there for several summers in the past. We had always had good experiences.

But our daughter was associating one camp experience with the other, and we were getting an enormous amount of resistance. My wife and I were therefore faced with some choices, none of them good or easy. At the extremes, we could either give in entirely and just cancel the second camp experience. Or, we could ignore the resistance and go “old school” in our parenting: We already paid for this, we made a commitment, sorry… but you’re going.

Neither of those options were particularly attractive to us… if we cancelled entirely, would we be taking “the easy way out”? We didn’t want the lesson to be we never have to do anything we don’t want to do. That would be bad precedent. On the other hand, we didn’t want to be ignorant of the fact that our child had strong feelings about camp. We wanted her to feel heard and be part of the discussion.

So, as you could probably have predicted about two paragraphs ago, we chose a middle ground. In the interim period between the camp sessions, we spent very little time talking about the upcoming camp. Instead, we let her vent and share her concerns about the old camp, as often as she wanted. And when she brought it up, we didn’t minimize it. We validated it. We hear you… we understand why you felt that way… we probably would have felt the same way, if we were in your shoes that kind of stuff.

Then, after several rounds of that conversation, we started a modest transition in the discussions. We started talking about all the ways that we thought this camp would be different. We compared the activities, the number of kids… we even visited a few days early and did a tour, and met some of the counselors. We asked her older brother to share his experiences. 

And, perhaps most importantly, we didn’t focus on the two-week commitment. We talked about getting through day 1. When day 1 was over, we did a review of what went well, and what didn’t… and we led her gently towards the recognition that these camps were in fact, quite different. We agreed to give day 2 a try.

And so it went. We are now nearing the end of the second week, and yesterday she came home with the following: I like this camp… I want to go again next summer. 

Boom. Success. Relief. 

What’s the point here? I promise you this is not a “look at what great parents we are” post. We make more than our fair share of mistakes.

No, the point here, is that we have multiple ways we can react when someone in our life resists strongly to something. We can either give in entirely, “fold up our tent” so to speak, and just try something else. Or we can dig in and insist that we stay the path, no matter what the reaction is. And obviously, there are some middle paths to consider as well. In this case, we didn’t want to just cancel. We wanted her to learn that she can do hard things, and that she can turn a bad situation into a good one. And we also didn’t want to ignore how she was feeling. We wanted her to feel heard, and realize she had a voice in the process. That’s a hard needle to thread sometimes. But in this case it worked.

I think there are lots of ways to apply the lessons of this story to our professional lives. We will often have to deal with colleagues who are resisting certain things. And, just like this story, there will be lots of ways we can respond. There may be times when you have to react strongly. But there will also be lots of times when more of a gentle response generates the best outcome. And that’s what we encourage you to look for. That’s what we did with our daughter in this case… we avoided either extreme response, and took a gentler approach. In this case, it worked really well.

Thanks for reading, and have a great day.

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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One response to “Leadership Advice: Avoid the Extreme Response”

  1. Andrea Fergerson says:

    Fantastic! Thank you for sharing this and making the clear connection to our professional experiences. Absolutely applicable. Much appreciated 🙂

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.