We were towards the end of day one of a 2-day feedback and coaching workshop. It was practice time, and we were IN IT.
John was mid-coaching conversation and tanking hard. The more he spoke, the more oxygen got sucked out of the room. Cringy looks, shuffling feet, and awkward side-eye looks, begging me to make it stop, dominated the room. Painful as it was, I let it go on.
We learn by doing, right?
He was telling not asking.
He was talking down to her like she was five years old.
He was plodding on ahead paying no attention to the fact her eyes were now downcast. Her arms crossed in front of her body. Her jaw clenched. Her whole body screamed get me away from this dude. Didn’t phase him at all.
“OK. Got it. Yup. OK.” were Jill’s responses every time he told her what he needed.
“Great! Thanks for your time.” He turned expectantly to me as the conversation thankfully ended, looking for his gold star.
I asked, “Any thoughts for John?” More eager looks from John, waiting for people to say, “Awesome job!”
Silence from the classroom. Everyone felt it–it was not good–but no one wanted to say it.
New prompt from me: “Do you think she’s going to change her behavior after that conversation?”
Now the class had something to say, “No way!”
Jill’s comment: “Hell no.”
He was dumfounded, shifting quickly to defensive and indignant.
“What do you mean?! She agreed to what I said. She said, ‘yeah, got it, ok.’ I talked her through the specifics. I did what you said…”
I asked if he noticed anything about her body language, anything about her mannerisms as he was telling, not asking, her to change her behavior. He had nothing. He hadn’t noticed a thing. That her smile that started the conversation changed to a checked-out frown.
I shared my observations, pointing out he did most of the talking and didn’t ask for her side of the story or her buy in. I mentioned that from my perspective, his tone was pretty condescending and he seemed to talk down to her. That’s how it felt to me, what it sounded like to me.
He was not having that AT ALL, denied any of that was accurate, and told me what he thought about me and my tone and my feedback. He was HEATED.
I got it. It was tough to hear. But we were there to learn, and I keep it real.
I reiterated those thoughts were my perspective, and encouraged the room to share theirs.
They tip-toed around for a few minutes but his vibe was definitely if you’re not with me, your against me.
Then, I brought it back to Jill. “Jill, those were MY observations of what happened. You were on the other end of the conversation, how was it for you?”
“I felt belittled. I felt shut down. He didn’t even notice or care about my reaction. He didn’t listen when I did try to talk. I’m not going to do anything he said–I just said yes because I wanted it to stop and I couldn’t take it anymore. I’m having a real hard time being in the room with him now..”
John immediately started protesting and I immediately called the session closed for the day.
The tension was high, the learning was done, and John was NOT a fan of me at the moment as he made clear by murmuring creative comments about me and “what did I know” on the way out the door.
I knew it had to settle. He needed time. He needed space.
The next morning, I started the session with a recap and asked if anyone had any thoughts or reflections from the day before.
Silence. Then John spoke up.
“On the way here yesterday morning I told my wife we had to go to some BS leadership training. When I got home she asked how it went. I told her about the role play, about what you said about my condescending tone and what Jill said about how I made her feel. I was pissed when I left here yesterday and I got all fired up again when I told her. I said, ‘Can you believe that shit?!’ You know what she said? ‘Yes.’”
A collective-class-head-swivel over toward John’s general direction, all eyes on him. If pins were dropping, you could have heard them like a fright train.
“She said, ‘They’re right. You talk to me that way some times. We’ve been married a long time, so I’ve gotten used to it. But it DRIVES ME CRAZY. It’s good they told you. It’s not just me. You might not mean it like that John, but your tone can be insufferable. You were there to learn, right?’”
Big pause by John. Big collective breath in by the class…they were on the edge of their seats–me included–wondering which way this was going to go.
“I had no idea,” he said in the most humble, surprised, concerned tone I’d ever heard.
Everyone’s shoulders dropped 5 inches.
He turned to Jill and said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for how I spoke to you. I didn’t think I was doing what you said–but now I can see how I was, and that what you said about it matters. I’m going to work on it. Please help me by telling me if I sound like that again. Yesterday was hard. It sucked when I was in it. Worse was hearing from my wife I talk to her like that. I want to get better. It’s made me think about how I do a lot of things, and what else I need to change.”
I’m sure we’ve all heard “we all have blindspots” phrase. (If not, you have blindspots. 😉) We agree with the sentiment, but what do we do about them?
We think we show up a certain way.
We think we are impacting people in a certain way.
We have the best intentions.
What really matters?
How they feel the impact. How they experience you. It’s your choice then, to make adjustments, to take it in and learn. Or not.
What’s not our choice? To not believe what they say about how they were impacted.
That’s all them.
Deciding to do something about it is all you.
For John, we had the class to provide the space for his blindspots to be exposed.
For the rest of us, we can create our own space.
If you’re open to learning about your impact (it’s never…well rarely…all bad!), this week:
- Seek out some trusted peeps and ask them if there’s anything about your tone/mannerisms/communication style/whathaveyou that they notice that might give them pause or rub them the wrong way.
- Get a second opinion, if need be, if you’re curious if it’s a one off or a trend..
- Be open to what comes up, and decide if it’s something worth working on. You get to choose.
- Imagine what you might open up in a relationship–a way of being, a way of talking, a way of putting the dishes in the dishwasher–that you had no idea impacted your partner/kid/friend.
Remember, you can choose whether or not to take action, but you can’t choose whether or not to believe their impression. So if you don’t want to hear it, don’t ask. 😉
P.S: John apologized and thanked me on the way out of class. I thanked him, for his honesty, his openness, his willingness to take it in, and for his vulnerability. I reminded him if everyone knew everything about communication, I wouldn’t have a job.😊 We were there to learn, and not only did he take in a big lesson, but everyone learned more than I could have anticipated watching by his example.