The following story was described by Sylvia Lafair, president of CEO Inc., and author of Don't Bring It to Work.
Client: Large corporate law firm.
Problem: An associate's job was on the line. Clients complained that he wasn't assertive enough and did not take the lead when providing counsel. His job skills and abilities were in question.
Cause: While the associate's understanding of legal matters was excellent, his communication skills were subpar. His employer sought Lafair's expertise to determine whether the associate was a fit for the position.
Diagnosis: Since the associate's natural tendency was to avoid conflict, rather than provide assertive counsel for his clients, he would ask for their opinion. Also, his supervisor's robust and opinionated personality reminded the associate of his grandfather, who was a source of intimidation in his youth. The associate perceived his supervisor as a persecutor and saw himself as the victim. He blamed his supervisor's abrasive management style for his own inability to speak up.
Method/Tools: Lafair used a behavior assessment approach to diagnose the source of the associate's communication breakdown. Lafair holds the view that everyone in the workplace tends to assume specific roles and take on certain behaviors that they learned from their families.
Through coaching, a self-awareness quiz, and 360 degree assessments, Lafair discovered that the associate's primary behavior patterns were that of the "avoider" and "victim."
Solution: The associate attended a leadership program with a dozen people from several different professions. Using a role-playing method called PEP Talk (Pattern Encounter Process), he enacted the behavior patterns that he believed his boss exuded (for example, bullying), while another participant acted as the associate. After half an hour of role play, the associate got it: He saw that his instinct was to assume an avoider-victim pattern, and that he had to own these behaviors to create a change.
Through the leadership program and coaching, the associate learned that the healthy opposites of his negative behaviors were to initiate and explore. As a result, he initiated a meeting with his supervisor and explained how his innate behaviors had negatively affected his communication and job performance. With his supervisor, he explored practical ways to make positive changes.
Within three months of working on his behavior patterns, the associate slowly began to change. He started to take risks and speak for himself. He learned to observe his behavior as it unfolded and to choose to behave differently. Months later, his supervisor noted, "If I can take only one or two people with me to my next company, I want to take [the associate]."