Recently, several of my executive coaching and OASIS Conversations workshop clients have complained that they are being unfairly perceived. In each of the cases, their boss said something like “we need to clear up the Jake and Jerry problem” where Jake was the name of the person who felt wrongly accused. How could his boss and others not see that he is the one who was “right” and did not deserve to be included in the negative perception. However, the more he complained about being accused and blamed the other person the more the negative perception stuck.
For one of the situations, I was quite surprised, like my client. He is collaborative and it did appear that the other person was not up for the job. Still, his boss held him accountable and expected him to take care of the problem. The negative perceptions hurt and sucked a lot of energy and time.
What did I advise? First, it is useful to normalize this experience. I have coached many effective leaders who have been caught in such a conflict even when they did not seek it. Second, it is useful to consider your part in such a tangle. How have you tried to reach out to the other person? Have you had a conversation with the other person and talked about how the conflict and negative perceptions are hurting both of you? Have you sought out a third party to support such a conversation? Be sure to first get empathy and be in an open place when you begin the conversation. Be sure to give empathy and work to understand the other person’s perspective as well as share your view. Look for where there is common ground and shared purpose. Make sure you identify a solid agreement and how you will follow up. After a conversation or several, be sure to check-in to ensure you stay on track.
One of my clients had such a conversation with a colleague that she had avoided for quite a long time and did not like. She was quite upset when their mutual boss, the head of the organization, insisted they come to a truce rather than continue to complain and blame each other. With preparation and some anxiety, she had the conversation. She discovered that her colleague was angry that she failed to include him in what he thought was pertinent information in order to be successful. She avoided him and had failed to see the impact of her behavior. In turn, she was able to ask him to stop saying negative things about her staff. They agreed to hold regular meetings to share information. They both were relieved when their boss agreed that things were running more smoothly. Years later they continue to be close colleagues and the organization is much more effective and their lives are filled with less stress and anxiety.
Be aware of how you are being perceived in your interactions. Engage in conversations to create agreements.