These case studies have been shortened and amended in agreement with my clients to protect their identity and privacy.
Simon von S. (Department Head, age 42)
International Telecommunication Company
During our initial conversation with my client I learned that Mr. von S. was looking for assistance with a small disagreement with his colleague. He explained it as follows:
„I have a dilemma and need some help. My colleague and I are on the same level of hierarchy and are leading an international project team with 15 participants together. Unfortunately, we often argue about business matters, which then tend to escalate to a personal level. As a result, the projects are delayed and our credibility towards our team is undermined. We’ve tried to talk it through, but we usually end up blaming each other”.
When the client arrives he seems very confident and self-assured. The way he conducts the conversation and asks questions shows me that he likes to be in charge. I ask him to articulate again the issue he wants to address and to note it on a flipchart.
I also ask him to place facilitation cards on the conference table, representing all the people and processes involved, taking his values into consideration.
He comments on each card as he is placing them on the table. I inquire if there is a reason why the card with his name is bigger than the card with his colleague’s name. He responds: “Of course, I’ve been with the company longer than him and my opinion is more valued”. I inquire if he brought an organization chart of his company. Mr. von S. puts it on the table and explains it to me. Both he and his colleague are on the same level but have different responsibilities, per job description.
When I inquire about an overlap in their areas of responsibilities, he dismisses my question and says that they were only leading the project together. He proceeds to explain the relation between the individuals on the cards and their connection to him. Upon inquiring about any other groups of people that were connected to his project, such as suppliers, family, etc, he adds a few more cards. When looking over the scenario he comments: “God, this is taking up a lot of my energy. Oftentimes I come home exhausted and all I talk about with my wife is work”.
I listen carefully, take notes and want to know what a “successful project” means to him regarding this particular situation. I ask him to list the individual points in order of importance (1 = not important, 10 = very important). He walks over to the flipchart and writes the following:
Next I want to know when he believes that this conflict with his colleague started to develop, and whether there was a particular incident that had caused it. He thinks about it but doesn’t have an answer. I show him a chart with stages of conflict and ask him where they are.
“Hm, I think we are between 4 and 5. One is trying to pull members of the team to his side to strengthen his position. And the other one is losing face”. I ask who he is referring to that is doing the pulling, him or his colleague.
His body language shows me that he is agitated: “the other guy, of course”. We then take some time to question who is benefitting from this conflict and whether my client is truly interested in changing the situation.
Afterwards we explore what type of conflict behavior my client had displayed in similar situations in the past. To facilitate reflection, I offer the following concepts:
– Conferring with a third party
– Freezing up
“I always have to fight to win,” he responds. “One time, I didn’t fight and then someone else got the praise. I am still upset about that”.
I want to know if he thinks that this is the right solution for him this time as well. He answers: “No, I don’t think so, because I need his know-how and that really bothers me”. Exciting!
I suggest a role play exercise in which to switch positions with his colleague and he agrees. We place two chairs across from each other. Mr. von S. verbalizes his own arguments sitting on one chair, and then his colleague’s, sitting on the other chair. Afterwards, I ask him to get up and walk around the room and to assume the position of a neutral advisor.
“Both men emphasized how important it was to them that the project was successful. I’d recommend for them to focus on these commonalities and to put all personal issues aside for the sake of this project. It was also apparent that they both have respect for each other’s achievements, despite their differences, which could also serve as a foundation for this temporary collaboration”.
I ask my client if he wants to write down his thoughts as an approach to solving this issue, which he happily does.
Subsequently, I confront my client with the observation that he defined respect as an important value when dealing with others; however, when he speaks about his colleague he calls him “the other one”, “the know-it-all”, “it’s the fault of the pain in the neck”. “How does that sound to you?” I ask Mr. von S. “That is how I release my anger”. His anger about what, I want to know. “That he is a threat to my position at the company!” the answer shoots out of him. My client is puzzled. “I always thought that it was my colleague’s attitude and behavior that caused our disagreements, but it seems it’s my fear of loss. I will have to work on that”. He gets up and starts to write:
I ask Mr. von S. to add concrete and attainable time frames to his plan of action. During the next meeting we plan to discuss the individual action steps and their corresponding results. We end the first session and the client leaves the office in a good mood.
The following Friday I receive this mail: “Dear Mrs. Rose, the mere awareness that I gained about my behavior, and a more open communication with my colleague have worked wonders! Thank you for mercilessly taking me apart. I am looking forward to our next session. Your Simon von S.”