Two words that form part of our Keeping It Real creed. They have immense reach in the world beyond business. But could they be relevant within business too?
I’m sure Terry* was skeptical when we started talking about it during a coaching conversation.
Terry, a Partner in a consulting company, was young, and keen to do even better than he already had within his firm. He had a team of Managers and Directors working for him. He found the younger, more ambitious ones quite easy to work with. But he struggled a little with people who were a little older than him; who were maybe good enough at what they did, but were topped out in their careers.
On an earlier call, we’d discussed this whole thing in general: how was it for him to manage people that he didn’t quite gel with? This challenge had clearly been around for him for a while as he shared with me conversations he’d had with this or that fellow Partner of colleague who’d coached him on this or that tactic he could use to try to get these people to change in some way.
I didn’t have any fresh tactics to offer Terry, but I did reflect to him the judgment that I heard in him. And wondered aloud how much of Terry’s issue was the people themselves, and how much was the way he was thinking about them? How much was about Terry changing, versus them?
And I wondered what might be possible if Terry could replace his judgmental thinking with compassion. I didn’t use the word “love” overtly, but that was what I was pointing to.
We didn’t then talk for a few weeks, but on the next call, Terry shared with me a huge breakthrough he’d had with John*, one of the people he’d found himself most struggling to manage.
Terry was honest and said that he’d seen John as a huge pain in the neck, always needing Terry’s time and attention, and instead of taking responsibility for making things happen, often seeking Terry’s prior approval.
Terry told me, that after quite a punishing week, he was driving home one Friday evening and John’s number came up on his phone.
“I just thought, ‘Oh God, here we go…'” he said, “but I answered anyway.”
He told me how John had wanted to update him on a client review meeting he’d done earlier, during which he’d discovered there was a prospective piece of add-on consultancy work. He wanted to run it past Terry because he was planning to do work on it at the weekend before going back to the client early the following week.
“At first it sounded like a really small piece, worth about £25K,” Terry said. “I had other proposals in the melting pot that week, all worth significantly more than that, and I just thought, why is this guy wasting my time on a Friday night? But all of a sudden I remembered the conversation you and I had had about judgment. And I stopped myself in my tracks.”
I just listened as he spoke.
“Something shifted in me. I just started to have the most enormous compassion, not just for John, but myself too. And I found myself saying to him, ‘Look, John, it’s Friday evening and we’ve both had long weeks. I’m sure neither of us is at our best right now. And actually, you don’t need to be working on it this at the weekend. Why not give yourself a break and let’s talk again on Monday?'”
“Huh,” I said. “And…?”
“It just diffused the tension I felt between him and me,” he said. “We even ended up having a joke about something.”
“And did you end up talking again on the Monday?” I said.
“We did,” he said. “I decided instead of another rushed phonecall, to actually invest face-to-face time with John. We ended up having a much different conversation than I think we’d have had if we’d just continued talking that Friday night. It was like, by Monday, two different people turned up.”
It seemed to me that the story would have been pretty cool already had that been where it ended. But he went on.
“Incredible thing is,” he said, “that because by Monday we were seeing one another in a different light, the conversation we ended up having about the client piece was different too. We got a whole lot more creative in looking at the problem John’s client was trying to solve, meaning that the intervention we ended up offering was worth about £200k.”
“Wow,” I said. We were silent for a while as we just held the whole magnitude of that.
“So, what did you take from all of that?” I said.
“It’s about what becomes possible,” he said, “when you bring gratitude and humility into the mix. I just found myself having huge compassion for John. It can’t be easy to know in your heart of hearts that no matter how hard you try, your career is going nowhere. And I appreciated him making the effort, irrespective. I also think that that had been the first time I’d honestly created real time and space for him; gave him my full attention and respect. The quality of our connection was therefor so much better. And so, it’s no wonder, we got a totally different result.”
And that’s my point.
What Terry did there was, in a moment of feeling challenged, choose a loving, instead of a judging mindset, and the whole landscape of his relationship with John shifted, as did their collective business results.
And, I wonder, where and could you shift things on your business landscape? What results might that bring you?
*Names changed to protect confidentiality.
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