I hate corporate jargon but this phenomenon was worthy of me coining a term for it.
Radiated zones are these awful things I’ve discovered in nearly every company.
Here is what they are, why they are there and what you can do about it:
What the he11 is a radiated zone?
Ever have a change go terribly wrong or mention a term that instantly triggers emotional responses from your team?
These are things that have some level of angst, PTSD or other negative connotation linked to them.
I was working with a large corporate recently and during a workshop we had a slide with a term on it. Instantly, people turned a bit sour. They said: “You’re going to trigger people with that term. It caused a lot of problems last time we did a project with that. I hated it and it went really badly”.
I’ll tell you how I overcame this a bit further down, but for now, what does a radiated zone look like?
- A term/project/topic/idea that people mention from the past that went terribly wrong or they hated for some reason
- Something you will never “try” again at the company because it didn’t work one time (that’s a terrible strategy btw)
- People immediately shut off to anything else you say after using the phrase
- You can’t compel them to act without heavy resistance when that term/project/topic/idea comes up
So what can you do?
How to decontaminate the zone
The reality every leader must face is that perception, is indeed, reality. If people feel like something is radiated (toxic), that is their reality and in turn, it is indeed radiated.
NOW, that doesn’t mean you allow that to simply “be” and work around it. Instead, we need to put together a plan to resolve/reframe it.
To do that, you’re going to have to challenge them and yourself. Here’s how:
- Ask the tough questions — Projects/ideas/topics/terms aren’t inherently radiated in most cases. There has to be a trigger event such as a poor outcome, a lie someone told, a poorly planned change, etc. Your job is to ask questions on why they are sensitive to the term. Questions like “what is your concern with X” and “What about X specifically is causing you stress”.
- Deal with the baggage — Whatever happened, happened. Poor leaders will avoid the issue altogether or will scrap the project. Bad idea. Instead, use those questions and other targeted ones to understand the issue. Once you identify what happened (such as a leader misleading the team, budget cuts, etc), own that and tell the team what you’ll do to ensure that doesn’t happen.
- Don’t lie — I often say to leaders “every debt must be paid” as a leader. That means any lies or false promises you make will come due. If you don’t pay them with what’s owed, you’ll pay in lost engagement, angry staff, etc. If the project is going to be tough, again, then be honest about that! It’ll be easier now if you’re truthful up front.
- Give it a new name and paint job— If a term or the project is too radiated, change the name or refresh what it is. There is no point using a term everyone hates if a synonym will get you the same outcome. Why argue over a term, font, colour, name, etc when it actually doesn’t matter to the outcome?
So what did I do?
Just like in my advice above, as the facilitator, I asked the group why they were upset. The main reason: they were misled about the project target and later discovered it was about budget cuts and possible redundancies rather than the great thing they were promised.
No wonder they were pi$$ed off.
So, I looked at the leader and asked (already knowing the answer) “is that the plan for this” to which they said, “no, no way”. Great! I also asked the group if we used another term such as (insert synonym) would that be better, to which they all said “yes”.
Obviously, the proof and fully convincing them will come from what happens next on the project, but how doable was that?
Your turn. Get stuck in.