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How to – Choose To Challenge

How to #ChoosetoChallenge

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge. We have spent time unpacking what challenge means and the cost of not challenging. Now we turn our attention to the How-to.

We know that people walk by behaviour that is wrong because they don’t know how to call it out. So, let’s explore how to challenge in a way that is constructive, comfortable and human-centred.

Start with you

Depending on the conversation to be had, challenging someone is likely to bring up tricky emotions and concerns. Taking responsibility for your feelings ahead of engaging in dialogue with others is crucial to enable a positive foundation for the discussion. It is important to avoid blaming or shaming during the discussion, so the more we care for our own triggers the easier this will be.

It is also worthwhile to check-in on any assumptions or stories you are telling yourself and to consider giving people the benefit of the doubt – or at least the opportunity to clarify or even withdraw a comment. We love the examples journalist Catherine Fox shares in this space, such as “could you say that again” or “what did you mean by that”.

Anchor on the why

In most circumstances, feedback or conversations focused on challenging behaviour are generally well intentioned. When looking to challenge, be explicit in what you are trying to achieve both internally and with your colleague. It can be useful to orientate your discussion around your organisation’s values, purpose or respectful workplace expectations. Don’t challenge someone if your intention is simply to be right to make someone else wrong.

Clear is kind, unclear is unkind – Brene Brown

It can be easy to get lost in language when delivering a message that feels uncomfortable or awkward. Simple and direct language is the best approach. If you overuse soft or minimising language, you risk sending mixed messages.

It’s also important to make the message about something, not someone and take full responsibility for the role you play in ensuring this message is received as you intended.

Make it safe and low risk

Ideally, we look to create an environment where it’s safe to speak up and challenge – and safe to be challenged.

It may not be appropriate to hold this conversation in front of others unless it is done with specific purpose or you are trying to role model the behaviour. The more senior you are in the organisation, the more responsibility you have to demonstrate the behaviours and culture that your organisation seeks to create. If you are more junior, be mindful of the politics and dynamics at play and consider how and when to challenge (or respond to it).

Catch it small and early

It’s much easier to speak up about small items – that feel lower risk – than waiting for the issues to grow and become more significant. Once in my career I challenged the use of inappropriate language in meetings, not because I was offended by it but to hold a boundary around the sort of behaviours that were expected in a professional environment.

The way in which you challenge, and how you’re being when you challenge is as important as what you say. When we are in judgement (self-righteous), the other person naturally becomes defensive or protective (their character is being questioned) – however, when we deliver a message that points out the behaviour with a neutral tone, it invites the person to question their approach and consider a different perspective.

In honour of IWD 2021, it’s time to Get Loud Australia & #ChooseToChallenge!