“Can you help me not be an asshole?” 😳
The workshop had ended. It was late. Brandon was in a shouting-whisper discussion with his supervisor. You know that tone people take when they are trying to keep things quiet but are fired up and that energy comes through? That vibe screamed off the pair of them.
I was packing up my computer and noticed not only were Brandon and his boss lingering but so were the rest of the participants.
It was as if they knew there was more to come.
That’s when I heard his supervisor say, “Go ask her!”
I looked up. He approached. He dropped the question…and we stayed.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa Brendan…Let’s walk that commentary back a bit, shall we? What’s going on?” I asked because, in the short time I knew him, I could tell he was decidedly NOT an asshole.
Truth be told, we had just finished a round of role plays and his had not gone well. As it played out, Brendan got more and more tense. His tone got more and more gruff. He was slouched down in his chair and got more and more exasperated with his “employee.”
I finally called “scene,” sensing that he was in a downward spiral and the experience had run its course.
I encouraged feedback from his peers. They delivered thoughtful reflections; their intention was genuine support. I shared my thoughts and coached him through some points and then I let it be. I saw the look I knew all too well: shutdown mode. I knew it because that was is one of my MOs.
He wasn’t taking anything in. He was in his head. He needed to process. He needed to settle. Mostly, he knew he wasn’t right in his head or heart. He knew he kind of acted like an asshole. But that wasn’t his real story.
I asked if he wanted to give it another go, this time with me as his employee. He was in.
We sat down across from each other and he started with his coaching conversation and I stopped him mid-sentence.
“Why are you slouched down in the chair? Why are you talking so quietly?” Brendan was a BIG DUDE. Tall, like 6’5” tall. Muscular, like could lift a pickup truck with one arm muscular. Big framed, like he could be the whole defensive line of a football team framed.
“Well, I had an HR Manager tell me once that I needed to get down to the level of the person I was talking to because my size is intimidating. They said I should make sure to speak quietly to not make them feel dominated by my size or my voice.”
My eyes rolled so far in the back of my head I think I pulled two eye muscles. “That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. (Tactuful, I know.) Forget that person ever said that to you. Why would they ever say that?! Ignore that advice and never give it another thought.”
I doing my best not to turn red and sputter at the outrage of that crappy advice. I said, “Sit up. Sit up straight. Speak in your normal voice. Tell me you’d like to have a conversation about my attendance.”
He sat up slightly. He said it a little louder. I made him do it again.
“Sit up more. Roll your shoulders back. Take your hands out from under your legs and put them on the table in front of you. Say it again.”
He sat up straighter. He said it again.
“One more time…” I encouraged.
He sat up. Put his feet on the floor. Put his hands in an open position on the table, and said, “Erin, I’d like to have a conversation with you about your attendance.”
APPLAUSE ERUPTED. From me, obv, but also from his colleagues who had stayed on to watch and learn and encourage.
“THAT’S IT! How does that feel?”
His smile spread across his face and he said, “Better. Good…it felt good.”
Of course it did! I get that size can be intimidating. Noted. How anyone could think that encouraging someone to shrink down, quiet their voice, and take up less space would enable them to feel confident, deliver a message with authority, or create an impact was infuriating to me.
“Be something your not and command authority.” Zero percent chance of success.
The crew stayed for another hour, and by the time we were through, Brandon was basically a coaching master. The shift in him was palpable. His team was incredulous.
He stood up and swallowed, and I mean SWALLOWED me in a giant bear hug at the end of our time.
“See,” I said, “Not an asshole.”
I’d encourage you to think back to some “advice” or “feedback” that was perhaps well-intentioned, but in your brain or your gut, you knew it didn’t fly.
How has it impacted you?
How can you let it go?
What behavior or action can you replace that advice with to show up more authentically?
As always, you can hit reply and let me know.