In a recent consulting session, a female client in a small company was having issues with one of the men at work. She butts heads regularly with this team member, they try to work it out (with lukewarm success) and then it happens all over again.
At the beginning of our session, she was full of words. She talked fast and had a lot to say about the situation. First, I listened and encouraged her to unload. I took speed-of-lightning notes and when the basic story was clear, she began to slow down.
“The next step is to simplify. Are you ready for that?” I asked.
She said yes.
This first step in most In Care of Relationship sessions, after hearing the basic story, is to SIMPLIFY.
- Find the thread that weaves through the whole shebang.
- Imagine the various “unrelated” issues as a fraction and reduce it.
- Discover the theme of the multi-faceted-whirly-gig-Rube- Goldberg life and give it a rest.
Simplification is my job, by the way, not the client’s job.
Being factual and simple calms the wild seas of emotion, and a wound-up client begins to think more clearly again.
Getting simple makes things easier on so many levels!
I asked her to imagine two columns. One labeled “What He Does” and the second labeled “My Responses.”
The content of the columns was pretty easy for her to state.
His Actions: demand, dominate, dismiss, be overbearing, criticize, shame, belittle, exert pressure, accept only logical or factual, and deflect.
Her Responses: defend, resist, get angry, refuse, feel sad, force myself to comply, try harder, judge, get anxious, give up, ignore.
My client was not in her power at all. She (the chipmunk) is no threat to the lion, and might even be considered by him to be a bother. The lion could give the chipmunk one swat and it would be over. He knows it and she knows it.
In real life, the translation is that the male team member thinks my client is young and has a lot to learn — so the solution, according to him, is that she should listen to him and do everything he says.
And then, of course, she’ll turn out great — just like him.
The problem with that idea is, of course, that SHE’S not HIM. She didn’t come here to Planet Earth to be him, can’t be him, doesn’t want to be him, and shouldn’t be him. She came to Earth be HER.
Furthermore, the whole idea of being a team member is that you contribute what you’re good at.
You don’t melt into one style, one thought process, one anything. Your best contribution is YOU.
So the tricky part is that nothing she says or does around him is effective, but the bigger story is that the interactions don’t work for either of them.
Whose responsibility Is that?
Since I’m working with her, the answer is that it’s her responsibility. Totally and completely her responsibility. If I was working with him, everything would be in his lap — his total responsibility.
At In Care of Relationships, that’s how we roll.
(But the responsibility conversation is a bigger conversation for another time!)
SHE: So what do I do? Shall I initiate a meeting or write him an email?
ME: Don’t do anything yet. Let’s get your feet on the ground before you take action.
SHE: Well, shall I try to think positively about this, focus on the positive aspects…? But truthfully, the thought of trying to think good things about him makes me retch.
(Which made us both laugh because it was so true for her!)
And what about all those people who talk and work things out? I can’t seem to do that with this guy. Talking to him is like talking to a wall. I can’t think straight. We can’t work anything out — EVER. Which makes me feel insane. Totally insane!
And boy, do I have some things to SAY TO HIM.
I WANT TO YELL AT HIM.
(Which, yet again, sent us into peels of laughter… such good relief …)
ME: Here’s the thing. You’ve lost your power around this man. Get it back.
ME: You can’t fix anything from where you are now because you gave away your power. Maybe you even handed it over on a silver platter. If you want to change things, first get your power back so you have a foundation. It’s yours. Just take it back.
SHE: Wow, hold on. What?!? My power?!?
(… long pause… it’s always a good thing when brain cells are re-arranging themselves…)
OK, say more.
ME: Thinking about the positive works often for you, and you do that really well — usually.
But not in this case. In this situation, you’re pretty down and out — you’re feeling powerless. Like a chipmunk against a lion.
How do you know you’re sitting in a puddle of powerless?
Everything is hard. You feel ineffective.
SHE: I understand that. I’ve got a long ways to go with this one, huh?
ME: A change can happen pretty quickly, actually. It depends on how much you practice.
So do you see what your work is? Use every interaction to remember your worth, your value, and your true and steady self. Nobody took anything from you. You gave it away, temporarily. Just reclaim YOU.
SHE: So I have no frigging idea how to do that.
ME: To start, practice in places where being yourself is pretty easy, like when you’re alone. It can be as small as making yourself a breakfast you enjoy. There, I did it! Notice it. Just take note — and celebrate — when you know how to be yourself, do things your way, or have what you want. Give yourself a high five.
This may sound silly, but it’s not. You’re building momentum here.
Now add another person to the mix, someone who is easy for you to be around. Notice that it feels good to say, express, and BE. And then do that with another person and another. And notice that your confidence grows, as well as the positive momentum.
(We went through some possible examples for her.)
Gradually move your attention to situations where it’s a little harder to be exactly who you are — where you might have a little hesitation or hold back.
(Again, we covered more examples here.)
You’re ready to address the work situation.
At a business meeting with this gentleman, practice being real, instead of holding back. Speak up. Say what you mean. Express your true response. Don’t cover it all up pretty and throw a blanket of happy daisies on it. If you’re outraged, be outraged. Stand up and shout a little if you need to. Nobody will die. Say what you want to say without apology.
Inside, I bet your spirit isn’t feeling careful and polite!!!
SHE: No, I’m not — at all. I’m feeling kind of explosive!
ME: Well, it’s natural that you would be feeling that way.
OK, are you ready for a few more things?
- First, keep in mind that he’s not preventing you from anything. He’s actually helping you be yourself. I know that idea is slightly annoying. It’s annoying that he is the reason you will improve your ability to express yourself more fully in all situations. Isn’t that ironic? Your “enemy” is actually helping you! Wild, huh? (Not surprisingly, she groaned a bit….)
- Don’t be all scattered and squirrel-y, running this way and that — explaining or defending. This dissipates your energy, your focus and your impact. Instead, before a business meeting, take a moment to get centered. What are you feeling and thinking? What topics will you bring up? Write them down. It may help you be more concise when you communicate to the team.
- Speak up and speak out. Make factual statements — short and to the point. And then wait. (Hint: This will require restraint.) Hear his response and make another short and to the point statement. Be direct. Use as few words as possible. “No” is a sentence. “Yes” is a sentence.
Here are some examples of direct statements.
- Let’s do this a different way.
- I can’t help you with that right now. I can help you (in two hours, in a few days, etc.)
- That’s a great idea. Here’s one tweak that would work for me.
- I’m not interested in doing that. We need to assign that task to someone else. Would you like to find that person or shall I?
- I have a better (different, new, epic, etc.) idea.
- This is a great discussion and I’m glad we’re talking about this. Here’s what I think.
- I have no job description, so I’m writing one for my position. I’ll keep you informed of my progress.
- Tell me the result you think needs to be produced, and once we agree on that result, I’ll figure out how to get it done. Do we have a deal?
- Here’s how to speak to me (ask for something, get help, inspire me, etc.) to get the best out of me. (Then say it. And say why that works. Give quality information.)
Your whole job is to be yourself. Being yourself IS your power.
When you are fully YOU, what you say has clout, because you’ve got — YOU — to back it up. You stand for something. That’s powerful. And fun!
SHE: That’s what I want.
SHE: I’m excited about this.
ME: Go get ’em!