In my last blog post, I wrote about how to enable personal change. This time, I want to tell you how to shift an interaction that is stymied and frustrating into something that is instead positive and productive.
A client came to our coaching meeting and explained that she was having a hard time getting one of her employees to step up and take ownership for tasking. “I’ve tried everything I can think of: explaining my expectations and accountability measures, listening to and empathizing with his personal challenges outside of work, asking what really motivates him, trying to adjust his tasking to suit his interests and strengths, referring him to our HR department for services and support our organization offers – nothing is different. I want to implement a Performance Improvement Plan only as a last resort, and I want to exhaust all my possible options before then.”
As she recounted these numerous exchanges, I noticed that all of the effort and energy was coming from her. The end result each time: an employee who didn’t have much to say in return. She said, “I keep coming up with all these ideas, and he doesn’t have anything to add. What do I do now?”
I drew a picture to represent what was happening between her and her employee.
We tend to think:
- What I am doing (“How I Show Up”) is reasonable and sound.
- Your response to what I am doing (“How You Show Up”) is not productive or is unreasonable. You need to change your response.
- If I keep doing what I’m doing but more often, with more effort, or with more conviction, you will eventually change your response.
- I am surprised, confused, and frustrated when my doubling-down on the same approach does not lead to different results.
You can see why this is illustrated as a repeating loop.
My client thought she was trying a number of options. But she was still perpetuating the same dynamic. The next step was to characterize her behavior and the response. My client reflected, “Well, I have a hard time not being the problem-solver.” So the word she chose to summarize her behavior was “Solve.” The word she used to describe the response from her employee was “Silence.”
What could change this loop? She said, “I’m filling the space, and there is no room for him to participate. I need to give space for him to contribute.” The word she chose to describe her new behavior was, “Allow.” And how would she show up differently? She said, “I’m going to ask open-ended questions and wait for him to answer.”
The result? It wasn’t easy for my client to remain silent. But when she did, she found that her employee was willing to share his perspective, including his own thoughts on his tasking. And when her employee was more involved with developing his own tasking, he was more engaged and motivated.
Many of us have a “stuck” dynamic that we want to shift. By bringing awareness to the pattern and purposefully changing how we show up, we can turn the interaction into a constructive one.