Redefining Challenge

It’s time for a new meaning

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day on the 8th of March is #ChoosetoChallenge. While there is much to be gained through challenging thoughts, behaviours and long-standing cultural norms in organisations, the act of challenging takes courage and, when done well, compassion.

As we look to advocate on IWD2021, it’s timely to take a deeper look at the way ‘challenge’ is perceived within organisations, so that we can reframe its meaning and explore why challenging the status quo matters when it comes to achieving Gender Balance.

Challenging the definition

Traditionally, ‘challenge’ has been interpreted as a battle ground where negativity and opposition are rife. Google the definition and you will find phrases like……‘dispute the truth or validity of’ and ‘invite (someone) to engage in a contest’.

For this reason, the mere thought of speaking up can trigger an alert state in which we prepare to defend our ideas or beliefs and we expect our ‘opponents’ to do the same. But is challenge about winning or losing? Defending and protecting? Or could it be about evolution and growth? Well, it depends.

If we approach challenging an idea, behaviour or cultural-norm from a position of righteousness, egos begin running the show. It naturally follows that challenge in this context becomes focused on the people battling – and whoever appears to be better, smarter and stronger. This type of interaction fails to educate, cut through to critical issues and impact broadly.

When challenge is offered without ego, without winners and losers, it presents as an opportunity for a constructive dynamic and becomes the catalyst for different perspectives, diverse thinking, elevated discussions and accountability.

In this way, ‘challenge’ is no longer defined as a contest but as critical for personal, team and organisational growth and transformation.

Challenging with compassion is powerful

If you’ve ever stood back and chosen not to challenge an uncomfortable comment or behaviour because you’re afraid of confrontation, bring compassion into play.

Compassion is not passive, it’s active and powerful: compassion is about doing what is needed with the right intention regardless of how difficult.

With challenge defined as the catalyst for growth and compassion as the backbone of your intent and approach, you have a framework to call out behaviours that have no place in today’s world.

Create the environment to challenge

1. Create a culture where it is safe (physically, emotionally and mentally) to call out inappropriate behaviour and comments

2. Catch it small and early – it’s much easier when you speak up early on the small items that feel lower risk

3. Make it about the behaviour not the person (hold the judgement, focus on the outcome)

4. Stay calm and neutral – avoid blaming or shaming the person

5. Do it with purpose – in service of a respectful workplace (don’t do it to be right or assert your moral superiority)

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, the other person naturally becomes defensive or protective (their character is being questioned) – 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.

So, as we approach IWD 2021, it’s time to Get Loud Australia, #ChooseToChallenge & #ChallengewithCompassion