'It's not fair' is the wrong response when dealing with managerial issues. The right response is to find a positive solution, says executive coach Joella Bruckshaw.
On a Friday afternoon I came out of a meeting to find my phone showing a Greek number from an unknown caller. My instinct told me to call back right away. I was connected with the head of HR in a fast expanding shipping company who wanted to know if I was available!
She explained that she had recently been hired to help the company put in an HR strategy, a task to which she was ideally suited, owing to her HR experience, coupled with a deep commercial knowledge. She reported to the CEO and at first she was invited to all the board meetings and felt valued for her considerable contribution. Then inexplicably the board invitations had dried up and she wasn't a happy bunny.
Fear of losing it
She wanted me to help her handle how angry she felt so she didn't give in to her strong desire to cry or lose her temper with the CEO!
Some of you will be nodding your heads in recognition, some shaking them in disapproval. Whatever position you take you will probably agree, stuff like this happens and if women are to succeed in making their way to the top of the corporate ladder, it's these situations they need to learn to handle with dignity and sangfroid.
What was really going on.
When we met and explored how this situation came about it became clear that, regardless of what might be happening with the management team, there were certain patterns that were familiar to her. One in particular was the "it's not fair" story. The way she was recounting events made it pretty clear that this was how she felt about being excluded from the senior team meetings. Once I had pointed it out we both fell into fits of giggles! It was so absurd to think that it was this belief that was responsible for her fear of losing control of her emotions.
Once identified, it wasn't difficult to find a way of handling it. We agreed that the "it's not fair" part of her was not all she was. When we explored her way of being at the top of her game and really making a difference, she described herself as inspirational and up for doing anything to get a result that worked for the company. She had plenty of evidence to support this notion.
After some discussion we came up with a new way of thinking about this aspect of her personality. She chose to imagine this part of herself as a small child that was frightened of being ignored and dismissed. Her job was to reassure that scared child so she would relax and play happily in the corner of the room whilst the inspired part of Julie strutted her inspirational stuff. We decided extra time attending to her needs would probably do the trick.
Identifying this strategy made a remarkable difference to how effectively she could put the case for working with me to her boss. Instead of us focusing on helping her find a way of standing up to unfairness in the senior management team, our potential working relationship became an opportunity to enhance the ways she already made her unique contribution to this thriving company. As she spoke about it with me, her natural enthusiasm for her role flowed easily from her. I immediately connected with her vision and wanted to know more.
Getting the result you want.
When she made the case from this position she was completely convincing. And that's how she came across to her boss when she had the conversation with him later. As I expected he was delighted to support her decision to go ahead and work with me.
The work we do will give her a much stronger sense of herself, how she contributes and what economic value that provides for the organisation. When a woman can have that conversation with ease and conviction she has the basis for a compelling argument for recognition and promotion and even more important remuneration.