Whenever I’m working with someone who is “stuck,” I play a game called, “What else is true?”
It doesn’t matter if this is a
- personal resentment
- workplace performance issue; or
- an interpersonal conflict
Looking for what else could be at play in a situation will always loosen things up.
I was meeting with a manager recently about a conflict within the team she oversees.
“Arrgh. He’s stubborn and sensitive and really incapable of doing the job he’s in right now.”
I don’t think any of what she said was untrue. But it was immediately evident that she was doing what all humans do:
- when we are in the weeds of a conflict, we attribute blame to a personality trait of the other person; and
- we anchor ourselves in our truth being the objective truth.
I love the way Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen talk about it in their book, Thanks for the Feedback. They describe the need to look at these conflicts from 3 different lenses:
- from the intersection of “you and me”
- from the dynamics of the roles we are playing at the time
- from the perspective of the structures and systems at play
In personal work, we might talk about it from the
- current perspective
- the “What Else Might be True” perspective
- the “Eagle Flying Over Your Life” perspective
It’s the same thing, different words.
Let’s deconstruct what was going on for this manager using Stone and Heen’s labels.
The intersection of “you and me”
- The staff person was full of complaints about the work
- The staff person has some peculiarities in their personality that the manager found troubling
- The staff person was new and wasn’t learning as quickly as had been hoped
- The staff person was a concrete thinker
- The manager felt overworked and short on patience
- The manager was also struggling with other members of the team
- The manager felt like she was under a microscope, herself
- The manager was intuitive in the work and had trouble communicating in concrete terms
The dynamics of the roles we are playing at the time
- The staff person was the most junior member of the team
- The staff person had received very little training
- The staff person was working working alone in the field with the most difficult clients
- The staff person had previously expressed feeling dismissed by his teammates
- This was just one of many employee issues with which the manager was addressing
- The manager had rightfully felt confident in her new role until this latest conflict arose
- The manager was, herself, working longer hours than contracted for without additional compensation
When we got to this awareness, there was something opening up for this manager; there was more empathy and she could relax some of her energy around her frustration with the person. The topic felt less personal and much more nuanced than being about the liabilities of personality.
“So maybe it isn’t all about him but I don’t think there is ever going to be enough training available to help him. He needs more and more and more and everyone else is able to just do what is needed; in fact, they go above and beyond with far fewer complaints.”
The Big Picture
So we looked at the system they are all being asked to work in.
- The industry is undervalued and underpaid
- The community resources are few and far between
- They are asked to put themselves in dangerous situations
- It’s a new program with no historical guideposts or context
“I guess it’s not fair for me to expect him to do objectively exhausting work in a potentially unsafe environment just because there are others willing to do it. Frankly, we’re all kind of a mess right now.”
Was this staff person a good fit for this job? Probably not. But what this manager could now identify is that it wasn’t 100% due to personality. Were there things that pushed her buttons? Absolutely. But there was more to the story. There were other things that needed to be addressed on the team, too and, while she didn’t have the capacity to do it, there were systemic issues that were impacting how this staff person was feeling in the work.
The conversation shifted from blaming an individual to recognizing that the staff person could use some coaching around his fit for the position. It changed everything. Her approach to the conversation with the individual, her team, and her own supervisors shifted immediately. She had a game plan because she could see more than one perspective.
In work or at home, where do you get stuck? How can this model support you to shift and find some space in your thinking? I’d love to hear!