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Ships Passing In the Night

The Real Issue

Divergent styles, conflicting wants, and opposing paradigms are inevitable in any organizational setting. In today's climate of downsizing and corporate re-engineering, those differences can be exacerbated.

The natural, and seemingly easy, reaction to such conflicts is usually to "keep firing people until you find someone who fits." Unfortunately, like trading used cars, companies often replace one set of known conflicts with a fresh set of differences.

Executive Coaching can help organizations reframe and resolve differences between individuals, often by teaching how to respect and value those differences.

Todd, the President of a manufacturing firm, approached Leadership Horizons with some reservation. "I've got this guy," he said, "he's one of my key VPs, and I just can't seem to talk to him any more. Chuck is more than an employee he's also a friend. I wantthings to work—he's competent, and he helped start the business, but things are tough now. We're downsizing and going through a whole TQM program. Everything's under a microscope. Maybe we could try this Executive Coaching thing and see if things get any better."

The Coaching Intervention

Initial sessions with the President, followed by individual coaching with Chuck, revealed a common problem, but seen from two opposing points of view. To Todd, it sounded like, "I try to speak to him logically, but he takes everything so personally." Chuck, on the other hand, reported, "It's really hard for me to do my job when he criticizes everything I do."

Both feelings were consistent with each individual's paradigms. Todd, an accountant by training,was a straightforward man with a need for "bottom line" results. Chuck was a much more gregarious sort with high belonging needs. Their interactions resembled the proverbial "ships passing in the night."

After reviewing the content with both individually, I arranged a coaching session, with both parties present, to make some observations. The meeting focused on the way each of them processed information, stressing the need for both to understand the other's paradigm. For Todd, that meant being aware of his directness being taken as criticism. For Chuck, it revolved around focusing on issues rather than personalizing them.

Realizing how difficult it is sometimes to see ourselves clearly, I attended a regular meeting between them and tape recorded the proceedings. Afterwards, we jointly and individually reviewed points where the criticism-defensiveness paradigm had come into play, and what they could do differently.

The Results

While the wants and needs of an individual may not change, the behaviors stemming from them can. In the case of Chuck, his need to belong caused behaviors that jeopardized his future with the company. Likewise, Todd's need for results motivated behaviors that inhibited Chuck's ability to produce them.

Both Todd and Chuck now report a more harmonious working relationship, built on respect of their differences in processing information. F2ch has gained an understanding of their own wants and needs, as well as those of the other. Both have learned practical skills to alter those behaviors that previously led them into conflict.


Other Cases

What's at Stake?

The "Double-Bind" of a Driven Executive

The "Shell Answer Man"


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