According to January, before his new supervisor was hired, the team thrived because they had the freedom to come up with solutions. They were allowed to spend as much time as they wanted on solutions they wanted to learn. They got to learn what they wanted, not only what they were told to do.
Additionally, he spoke for his teammates when saying they felt the new supervisor did not listen to them. She supposedly had a default view of the team as wrong from the start of every project. January felt he needed to fight for his co-workers because he was older than they were. He asked for help with his workplace communication conflicts.
An Effective Coach Asks the Questions Others Avoid
I knew I was risking our relationship when I didn’t show January sympathy. Instead, I asked a series of questions and invited him to list 10 things he appreciated about his supervisor. To help him re-humanize her, I asked, “What contributions does she make to the business, her job, the team, etc.?” She was presumably hired because she had education, experience, and skills her boss thought would make a difference, but January didn’t seem connected to those. He had been demonizing her and wishing for “the good old days” that probably weren’t always as good as he remembered. I dug deeper. That’s what I do as a coach, even if it means I might make him angry or defensive.
I asked him to consider:
- Has the team really lost its freedom to learn new things or come up with solutions? Or are they simply more limited in this workplace and for pay? In a world where most of us have a wealth of information available in our pockets, it was hard to understand why they felt they were forbidden to learn. Even slaves and concentration camp prisoners found ways to learn and come up with solutions to get themselves through unfathomable circumstances.
- Could his supervisor be feeling as disrespected as he suggests he and his team do? Do they respect her? We might think we are fooling people when we pretend not to feel the ways we do. They are smarter than we give them credit for. Even when we don’t say we wish they were gone, they know.
- What did the team need to feel like she had their backs? Was she supposed to let them give the orders and trust everything would work out? What then was her role? Again, someone with the authority to make the decision decided to hire her. It probably wasn’t a random choice.
- Is she the only one who doesn’t think exactly like everyone else on the team? Could that be a benefit? It’s possible she was hired to bring fresh perspectives to projects.
- Has she told the team her default view is that everyone else is wrong, or are they just feeling that way? Most importantly, he needed to focus on why he was feeling that way. He might have told himself he was fighting for the team. (I’ve been there and justified my actions in similar ways.) But he only had full access to his own feelings.
- Why is there a right and wrong in the discussion of a project? Was she breaking laws or rules? Who defines those and how? Not everyone is going to share our values and beliefs. In the workplace, the laws of the jurisdiction and the business’ policies that govern. When we accept employment, that is the basic agreement, whether or not it is memorialized in writing.
- Can you let go of the idea this is a fight? How can you build a team that includes her, instead of demanding she conform to the ways things have always been done?
How the Seven Choices Could Have Helped January Focus on the True Issues
January got the message immediately. He had gotten resigned and desperate. He went to his supervisor’s boss while she was on vacation, not-so-secretly hoping she might never return. Then, he started to wonder if he was being a jerk and creating the situation. He added to the list of conflicts that needed to be resolved. This is one of the reasons the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process includes the Seven Choices. Often, when we are emotionally-charged, the best things we can do are:
- Forgive ourselves
- Acknowledge ourselves
- Forgive the world
- Free the emotions
- Clear our minds
- Assume nothing
- Listen with our third ears–for the hurts we can heal
Lead from Wherever You Are
January made a bigger mess of the one he was already in, but there was no need for self-judgment. To get to resolution, he needed to tell his supervisor what he told others: “I really do want us to work together, and I think we can.” He also needed to admit he went above her head. He needed to prepare for her to not only feel disrespected, but betrayed.
Still, the relationship was not irreparable. I know January to be kind, thoughtful, and compassionate. He is committed to doing great work, even if definitions of that differ from person to person. I invited him to include great personal relationships in that work. He accepted.