How to Engage with Interest not Aggression

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Ralph is an experienced leader who comes to our Coaching sheepishly. “In the last year, two great people have quit my team,” he says. “They are diplomatic about their reasons, but I’m guessing it has to do with me.” In both cases he recalls a heated discussion about important work issues, and how aggressively he engaged.

Like many executives, Ralph is a results-oriented leader, and also brilliant in his field. He isn’t shy either – when you bring him an issue he will immediately work with you on it. His staff, for the most part, love him. Lately he is finding that younger, bright employees are not willing to overlook his aggressiveness. Hence, the early departure of talented newcomers.

In Coaching, Ralph sees how this trait that has served him well in the past, has become a liability. When he was a Manager his focus and energy were important, and his ability to stand up to others – especially vendors – was rewarded. How can he maintain the value of engaging with his staff without getting in their faces?

In Integral Coaching we start with self-awareness. Ralph is already self-aware, but now he needs to look more objectively at how and when he becomes too aggressive. For a few weeks he self-observes and records incidents. In the debrief we notice when his tension rises. By Friday he is more tense. After his three morning coffees as well. Right after his own boss dumps more work on his shoulders. When he argues with his teenage son. When another leader doesn’t deliver on a promise. When he gets asked the same question several times in a row. Now Ralph is noticing that his whole life is part of his leadership style.

How can Ralph show an interest in others work, without plowing into them? We start with an exercise in pausing. He pauses before he picks up the phone, before he answers a text, before he speaks in a conversation. (Sipping his decaf coffee becomes the default pause.) Next, Ralph practices feeling his impatience and not moving. He sits in a chair, and thinks very strongly and clearly “I want to get out of this chair.” But he doesn’t get up. He feels his desire to rise, and lets it subside. When that happens, he slowly and purposefully gets out of the chair.

After some time, Ralph is able to slow his reactions even in tense situations. He is able to moderate his in-the-moment response regardless of whether or not it’s Friday. He is able to listen to his staff and ask them “What would you like from me?” before jumping into the fray. He is able to show interest without unnecessary aggression.

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