With over twenty years of leadership experience, Sharon Rossignuolo of Coach Executive Ireland uses her expertise to empower her clients through executive coaching. One of the problems Sharon helps with is tacking conflict at work and her coaching style is demonstrated throughout this story of her work with Séan.
The frustration was palpable when Séan* sat down for his coaching session. Red-faced and breathing shallowly, Sharon could see this wasn’t one of his better days. He explained he’d just come out of an Executive Board meeting where he had “locked horns” with one of his fellow Directors, Brian*.
Sharon invited Séan to breathe deeply to let the frustration out, and once calm; he said he’d like to use the session to deal with the conflict he’d just experienced with Brian. From there, he outlined the situation.
Brian wanted the organisation to drop a long-standing client because they “no longer fitted in with the new company brand/direction”, whereas Séan felt they should keep them on.
As one of their first-ever clients, Séan had an overriding sense of loyalty and valued the fact that in those early days of the company, this client had taken a chance by hiring them when many others wouldn’t. Because of the experience and credibility of working with this client, they’d eventually gone on to work on more significant and lucrative projects.
Séan was convinced he was right and did not understand “what planet his colleague was on”.
Sharon acknowledged Séan’s feelings and commended his loyalty toward this client. Having been with the organisation since its humble beginnings in 2002, Séan had come up through the ranks, seeing first-hand the challenges of doing business as a Start-up.
On the other hand, Brian joined the company four years ago, when they’d already amassed an impressive portfolio of clients.
Working through the problem
We explored how the difference in tenure might impact each of their perspectives. Séan acknowledged that being with the company from the start, he had an emotional connection to this client, whereas Brian wouldn’t hold any such link. Delving into this deeper, with questions like:
What are your core values? How are these playing a part in your stance?
If you were to see the situation through the lens of Brian’s values and strengths, how would you see the situation?
It became clear that both had positive intentions and had stood up for their values (which ironically were similar: respect, integrity, transparency, loyalty and hard work, but they applied them differently.
Brian was applying them to the organisation and leaning into his “Strategic Visionary” strength, while Séan took his stance based on emotion and loyalty towards the client rather than (if he was being honest) the organisation he worked for.
Sharon asked Séan who they’d be if they didn’t stand up for their values.
He took a moment to reflect on this, and the anger dissipated. He realised it would serve him better to attempt to understand Brian’s stance rather than dismiss it entirely out of hand. An objective view of the situation from a business perspective was explored.
Sharon asked him his stance if he took the emotional attachment out of it. He acknowledged that without that and the sense of loyalty for the client, keeping them on their client list no longer made business sense.
The reality hit that perhaps Brian wasn’t wrong after all. Although slightly embarrassed, Séan was willing to accept that they may need to take the tough decision. We explored how the decision to part ways might impact the client.
Séan assumed that they would take it badly and that it would negatively impact them. However, when Sharon challenged his assumptions (positively, of course!), he admitted there was no reason to believe this was true.
If they were to part ways, Sharon asked him what would make the situation easiest for him and the client. He decided that he could take a lead role in helping with the transition to ensure it went smoothly. He could also recommend trusted industry peers who might be a good fit for the client.
I sometimes tend to get so attached to my ideas, opinions and values that I forget the other person might have a good reason for digging their heels in. I let emotion get in the way of a sound business decision; that’s not good!
The solution of coaching
By the end of the session, Séan was looking and feeling a lot lighter. The emotional weight of loyalty now lifted from his chest; he was seeing more clearly and realised the value of his colleague’s thinking.
Sharon asked him what his takeaways were from the session, and he said:
“I sometimes tend to get so attached to my ideas, opinions and values that I forget the other person might have a good reason for digging their heels in. I let emotion get in the way of a sound business decision; that’s not good!”
Conflicts at work are always challenging. However, before you get too involved in why you’re right and they’re wrong, take a breath and try to understand where the other person is coming from. Empathy is a powerful tool for communication – use it regularly for creative, constructive conversations. It’ll enable you to create a more productive work environment where people feel safe and listened to and can exercise their strengths to do their best for the business.
Did Sean’s story resonate with you? Booking a free consultation call with Sharon Rossignuolo can provide you with a safe space to discuss the issues you’re facing and how coaching can help you work through these issues.