Move from the Battlefield to the Playing Field

Relationships are a key factor in the success of any enterprise.  Yet, many of us approach relationships with staff, clients and even our “to do” lists as if we were doing battle.   Shifting your way of being from being a critic to being an accomplished player on a winning team can shift your relationships and create new possibilities.

In my work as a Leadership and Career Coach, I worked with Jean, a successful CEO.  Jean had an upcoming meeting with her business partner Ellen to discuss a soured client relationship.  Her stomach tightened and a frown came over her face.  Disagreements between them often degenerated into sulking or shouting.  Things just didn’t get resolved.  It was frustrating to Jean, and worse, the unresolved problems were costing her money.

In order to shift the situation, Jean learned that she couldn’t just DO something differently, she needed to BE different while she was doing it.  I showed her that she was approaching the situation as if she was gearing up to do battle every time she met with Ellen.   Dukes raised, head ready to butt, she showed up tense and tight.  With that attitude, she actually shut down possibilities and limited her own vision.  When we are focused on our fears, we literally close down our peripheral vision.  Creative solutions become difficult if not impossible.

We practiced the meeting in advance from the perspective of four ways of being.  The first stage is the “Drama” stage.  This is ordinary human drama that results in stalemates, arguments, and negative feelings.  I encouraged her to get off her chest exactly what was bothering her about the way Ellen was handling the client without censoring anything.  This provided a release for Jean and she could hear how she sounded playing the Drama Queen.

Next, she played the scene as Ellen and I played “Jean the Drama Queen.”  Jean got to experience how she sounds when she’s geared for battle.  She didn’t like what she heard!

In the next stage, I asked Jean to play the scenario as if she was a logical, rational, problem solving intellectual.  Faced with a dilemma, how would she propose that she and Ellen resolve the client situation?  This appealed to Jean as she prided herself on being smart.  She came up with two or three possible ways to resolve the problem.  Jean came up with some ideas but they felt flat.

Now I stretched Jean.  What if we moved to a playing field?  In the world of sport, you can play with intensity and still recognize that you’re playing a game.  What if Jean and Ellen were on the same team trying to create a win for all involved?    If she was a kid creating a solution with Ellen, what could that look like?  I find in working with entrepreneurs and leaders, that the “Play” stage is often the most difficult for people to act out.  Jean came up with some more creative ideas and recognized that she felt more relaxed in her body and more innovative in her approach.

Finally, I asked Jean to name someone she revered.   Who would she naturally be on her best behavior with?  I’ve gotten some pretty interesting responses to this question.  Some pick a spiritual figure like Buddha, the Christ, and Mother Theresa.  One woman offered Brad Pitt.  A group of CFO’s would be on their very best behavior with Warren Buffett.   When you are in the presence of someone you revere, you naturally bring your “A” game.

Jean picked Steve Jobs as she was an Apple fan and loved Steve’s commitment to his vision.  “OK,” I said, “let’s run through this scenario as if you are meeting with Steve, not Ellen.  How will you approach this meeting?”  The effect of this question was amazing.  Jean actually looked shocked!  She realized that she had been holding Ellen in disdain and blaming her for the problem.  When we role-played the meeting with Jean acting as if she were Steve Jobs, her voice softened, her gaze intensified, her body posture opened.  I was looking at a different woman!

Having tried on four different ways of being in advance of the meeting, Jean was ready to try a new approach with Ellen.  She invited Ellen into a new kind of conversation between them where they would play a game of creating a winning situation for them all.   She practiced reverence for this long time partner and created a solution that pleased and surprised them both.

Coach’s question:  Who are you being while you are doing what you are doing?