Coaches Diary: Building Bridges

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Coach Olivia Stefanino helps Gina to rise above the personality clash that was holding her back from progressing relations with her boss.

The frustration was clearly etched on Gina’s face. For months she had been working on a “nearly impossible” project for her demanding boss and she was becoming increasingly irritated by the lack of recognition she was receiving.

Playing with her coffee cup, Gina told me that she and her boss David had never seen eye to eye and that as a result she had chosen to ignore him. As a consequence Gina was being left out of the team and she felt her position was being persistently undermined.

Describing most of her peers as ‘yes’ people, Gina felt she was the only one honest enough to speak the truth especially to her boss.

Gina was at a loss to know what to do next but she was beginning to realise that if she didn’t do something quickly to change the situation, she would be forced to find herself another job.

While the picture looked somewhat bleak from Gina’s perspective, the real cause of the problem was becoming quite clear. David was responding to Gina’s dislike by excluding her from the team decision making process and yet in many ways, Gina had only herself to blame.

Flashing me a look of angry surprise, Gina reiterated her belief that David’s management style was at fault.

“Let’s look at it from David’s point of view for a moment,” I suggested. “Do you think he sees you as someone who supports him or someone who makes his life more difficult?”

The penny dropped and Gina’s face and neck began to redden. “For David to want to help you and include you in his team, he will need to trust you and at the moment, trust is the vital missing ingredient.”

I then asked Gina to describe David’s personal goals. Looking blank, Gina admitted that not only did she not really understand David but nor had she taken the trouble to find out what really made him tick.

With a slightly sarcastic smile, Gina began to talk about David’s desire for empire building. “He is always looking to see how he can turn any situation into a means for making himself look good,” she said witheringly.

“Right,” I replied, “then recognising that to be the case, you can now use that piece of knowledge to your own advantage. In all honesty, you know that you must have David’s blessing if your current project is going to succeed so you need to make sure that you package your conversations in a way that make him not only feel good, but also look good to everyone else!”

Gina and I spent a little time looking at communication skills, language patterns and how people in general process their thinking. Recognising David as a visual person who liked to see structure, Gina was beginning to understand how she could communicate better with David. For David to understand Gina, she needed to speak to him in such a way that he will see the bigger picture and perhaps by writing it down for him, he would also be able to see the structure in black and white too.

However, both she and I knew that she had some bridge building to complete first. Seeing now that there was hope for positive change, Gina agreed that a conversation with David in which she admitted that she hadn’t been a good team player might be a good start.

“By admitting your mistakes,” I said, “you will create an opportunity for the past to be forgiven while allowing an opportunity for trust to be created. And, I bet you that when you apologise first, David will also admit that he hasn’t behaved particularly well either.”

Gina was looking a lot more relaxed by the end of our session together and she promised to report back on her success at creating a new modus operandi with David.

* Olivia Stefanino is a leadership development consultant and executive coach, who works with blue chip organisations, SMEs and individuals. To find out more – and to download your free e-booklet “128 ways to harness your personal power”, visit www.beyourownguru.com

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