“She’s Mean to Me!” The Shattering Conclusion

My two previous posts discussed how to help employees who complain about interpersonal problems with their co-workers, addressing both some general principles and the GROW approach to coaching.  This week, I conclude with a discussion of some of the challenges you are likely to face when coaching employees in this type of situation.

Challenge One:  The employee will want you to solve the problem for them.  The essence of coaching, however, is that the client (or “coachee”) has to own and at least attempt to resolve the problem himself or herself.  Feel free to tell the employee this — most will understand the principle, however reluctantly.  In addition, as noted in Part 2 of this series, when you work with the employee to set goals, be sure that they are something that the employee him or herself can accomplish.

Challenge Two: You will ask the employee a coaching question and get a blank stare in return. There’s an art to asking a good question — check out an earlier post of mine for some tips.  Even the best questions, however, often result in a blank stare, or “I don’t know.”  You’ll be tempted to leap in with  your own hard-earned wisdom. Don’t. Instead, first try to let silence do the work for you.  If the pause gets too long, you can then try to get the employee’s analytical juices going using prompts such as, “What’s the first thing that comes to your mind?” or  “How did you feel when I asked you that question?” 

Challenge Three.  The employee will remain emotional and want to be vindicated.  It’s important to acknowledge an employee’s feelings. At some point, however, you’ll want to tell the employee that he or she needs to approach the problem from a strategic and problem-solving standpoint, not an emotional one.  You can tell the employee that if there is wrongdoing on the part of co-workers, you will address it, but you want to emphasize that often interpersonal problems are a result of differing perceptions and miscommunication, not intentional wrongdoing. 

Challenge Four: The employee continues to use the H-word. By this we mean, of course, the word “harassment.” As in, “He keeps harassing me no matter what I do.”  Here you can try a couple of things.  You can explain that the term “harassment” has a specific legal meaning not applicable to the situation (assuming it’s not) and is not helpful in solving the problem because it is an “emotion” word.  You can also tell the employee that the word “harassment” is vague and he or she needs to describe what’s going on with much more specificity if the problem is going to be effectively addressed.

Challenge Five: The employee tries to avoid agreeing to specific action steps. Here you’ll just have to get pushy and help the employee come up with specific steps that will advance his or her goals and that are within his or her control.  You’ll also want to use the motivational technique that’s part of the GROW method (On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely is it you will do this … ?)   

These are just a few of the challenges that come to mind — coaching is not easy. But as I noted in my first post, it’s well worth the investment of time and effort.  Have you had challenging coaching experiences? Do share them!

Happy Holidays to All. We’ll be back after the New Year.  ~Amy Stephson

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