A client has approached you with one of those situations that most people have encountered in their working life at some time or other: “What are the best ways to approach a person in the office I don’t seem to be able to get on with and ‘clear the air’ with them once and for all? Terry Neal, LCI’s Master Coach, answers…
This can be a challenging situation for your client who feels that this needs to happen as well as for those other staff members who may be indirectly affected by this as well. As the coach in this situation I would start by checking with your client as to what relationship they would like to have with this person once the “air is cleared”.
Does your client want to have a once only meeting with no further thoughts of interaction with their colleague other than what’s necessary for business – or do they want to establish a better long-term working relationship as well?
Initially you may detect that this situation could be a case of sexual harassment, bullying or discrimination. If this is the case, then ethically you would need to assist your client by providing information about appropriate government departments which can assist them with these matters. If this isn’t obvious at first, be aware in case your client talks about certain behaviours during the course of their session with you that could lead you to feel that one of the above scenarios is taking place in their work place.
However for this example, let’s assume that apart from clearing the air that your client would like to be able to have a better long-term working relationship with their colleague. Therefore to begin with you could ask the client to imagine themselves in the perfect scenario with this colleague.
You could ask them something like this: “Let’s imagine that tomorrow morning when you come into the office that the difficulties that you’ve been experiencing with your work colleague aren’t there anymore. How would you know that this has happened? What would you notice that was happening differently with you?
This could be a great way to encourage your client to image their ideal office scenario with their colleague. You could then follow this up with more questions that draw out the details of this picture; questions like “What else would be different if this miracle happens?” and as they talk about some of the ways that they’d feel different, encourage them to talk about what they would be doing with or saying to their colleague if they were “less angry” or “not feeling belittled” – or whatever the challenge was that they were having with that particular colleague.
It would also be important for you to help your client to see what the contrasts would be from before to after the miracle had occurred particularly if your client starts to rehash the original situation over again and starts to get stuck in that cycle of hopelessness. Keep on bringing them back to the positive where the problem has been solved through a miracle. You could then ask your client to look at how the other person might be in this miracle situation, how they might be different. What would your colleague be saying or doing in this miracle situation – especially towards you?
Now at this point you may find that your client may be saying that it’s OK having this miracle picture and it sounds great BUT it’s not happening in this way NOW and that they’re still in a situation of being in conflict right now – and that they have to be back with their colleague tomorrow morning at work.
If this scenario is raised by your client through their frustration with the current situation and they’re not able to entertain the possibility of a “miracle” happening, or if they are excited by the prospect of such a “miracle” scenario happening, you could assist them to begin creating a different relationship by asking them to recall if there have been any times in their interactions at work (or elsewhere if this also occurs) when there hasn’t been any conflict or when they thought that there might have been a difficulty but it didn’t happen?
Most people can bring to mind some occasion, an exception, when there was no conflict and maybe there was even agreement on a particular issue or topic. Encourage your client to focus on such a situation/s if they have happened more than once over a number of topics.
If your client cannot remember a time when there was an exception or an area of common interest was shared by them and their colleague, you could suggest one of two things. First, go back to the miracle question and review the scenario created by your client and ask more questions about this scenario that they would like to have with their colleague.
You would do this to see if what your client wants is at all feasible for while a miracle is always possible, there may be another miracle scenario that your client can imagine for which there are some workable exceptions. For example if your client said that in a miracle scenario, their colleague wasn’t at work and/or had been fired, this could be a scenario but maybe not the most appropriate one to work with. Rather than “clearing the air” or possibly creating a better working relationship with them your client has merely removed them from the picture.
Second, you could ask your client to observe their colleague and to note any situation where they could be involved with them in a positive way; for example listening to their point of view on a particular issue and stating agreement with them if it’s also your point of view. In other words noting ask your client to note opportunities however small that could help to create some measure of connection between your client and their colleague.
It would now be a good idea to assist your client to review where they are in relation to the whole office situation after imagining a miracle and noting possible exceptions. You could ask your client: On a scale of zero to 10 where 10 is where the office situation is exactly how you’d like it to be while zero is where it’s as bad as it could possibly be, where are you right now? You could then follow up with a question like: What would need to happen for you to notice a small improvement so that you could say that things have moved up a little bit on the scale?
If your client seems confident and has expressed a desire for change you could also check out how confident and motivated they are by asking once again using a scale of zero to 10 with zero being “not at all” and 10 being “totally confident and willing”, how willing they would be to make things better and how confident they are that things are going to get better.
So the final step in this process using solution focused therapy would be to set your client some tasks that are either active (e.g. pick a day between now and next time we meet and on that day pretend that you miracle has happened and note how the day goes) and/or observational (e.g. observe your colleague and those around him or her and note the colleague’s actions and what they talk about to those around them). This could assist your client to find a point of common interest which they were not aware of before.
It would be important once again to mention to your client that this unobtrusive observational action may assist them in finding a common point of interest that could act as a starting point for communication with their colleague