Confusing perception and reality will make even experienced leaders cry
A coaching client was in tears during a call not long ago. She lives in another time zone so the call was in the evening, after work. I took the call in my home. She called from hers.
I felt for her, but my job was to coach her through the situation—to enable her to make herself feel better, resolve the cause, and know how to resolve similar future situations.
The issue was that she was trying to reach a high-status person who was also a gateway to a big project for her. Without him, she would have trouble proceeding. He had returned her emails a few times a few months ago but stopped. She hadn’t heard from him in months and concluded he dropped the correspondence and terminated the relationship. She worried she ruined it without knowing why. She couldn’t figure out what she did wrong. Whatever the reason, she was sure she lost access to all the connections through him on this important project. Hence the tears.
I wanted to understand the situation to figure out what to do about it. I don’t expect people in professional relationships to cut off communication without warning or explanation. Each time I asked, she explained how he just stopped responding to her emails. I tried to find resourceful ways of communicating to get through but she assured me they wouldn’t work, based on her past attempts that didn’t work. Her mutual contacts weren’t helping for various reasons.
Finally, I asked her to send the email trail to see the raw data. She emailed it to me. It took a while to disentangle the various people talking amid the introductions.
I saw it totally different than she did. Yes, he didn’t email for a while, but he had told her she could call him. He had given her advice. I saw these as signs he was open to talk to her, despite his not responding for over a month.
I’m not saying I saw the situation better or more accurately than she did, just differently. But my view opened the door for her to act. I suggested looking at it from my perspective. She did, she saw how to follow up, she followed up, and they are in touch.
My point isn’t that she got in touch. That’s nice, but it’s a one-time result.
I’m illustrating that even people who know the difference between perception and reality still forget it and confuse themselves. To the point of tears. She landed on one perspective and couldn’t leave it. She had read my example of this situation: not hearing from someone and assuming their motivation without basis. We can’t help falling into assumptions, but we can find alternatives.
Flexibility in your beliefs gives you freedom to create new strategies. Inflexibility traps you as surely as a jail cell.
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