Business Coaching and the Power of the Pause

“The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes–ah, that is where the art resides!”

~ Arthur Schnabel

Business Coaching and the Power of the Pause

By Andrea Novakowski

Cara was a manager at a Providence, RI consulting firm who could always be counted on to get the job done. She had a hard-driving style that got results, and her boss recognized how valuable she was to the company. Then one day Cara walked in and discovered she had a new manager, one who didn’t appreciate her take-no-prisoners approach.

Suddenly, what was once applauded was now being penalized.

No matter where she turned, she found herself in continual conflict with her new boss. Every meeting ended in a heated discussion. Every day was an exercise in frustration. Cara called me to help her decide if it was time to leave the company.

We used the PaperRoom System to determine that Cara was getting more than 80 percent of her needs met at her current job. Obviously, quitting wasn’t the solution. She had to figure out a way to work with her new manager.

Communication with your boss can be a challenging thing, especially when your styles clash. Cara and I tackled the problem by using a simple diagram from the book 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done by business coach and consultant Peter Bregman.

According to Bregman, here’s how most conflict plays out:

Event => Reaction => Outcome

Someone says or does something that pushes your buttons (event). You respond with anger or frustration (reaction). This leads to an undesirable outcome. For Cara, it was wasted time and energy, not to mention the stress of arguing with her supervisor.
I showed Cara how to recognize this dynamic and change it to yield more productive results:

Event => Outcome => Reaction

First, Cara determined which part of her boss’s behavior triggered her negative reaction.  Next, she paused and envisioned the outcome she wanted: not a battle with her boss, but more appreciation for her contribution to the company and more responsibility. She saw her typical reaction wasn’t producing this result. So she changed her reaction.

As you might expect, that part can be tricky. How do you pause in the heat of the moment, rather than responding automatically to provocation? Cara determined three actions that worked for her:

  • Calm down by counting to 10 in her head.
  • Agree with what her manager is saying in the moment, then circle back for a more complete conversation when he is calmer.
  • Observe how other people manage her boss when he gets worked up.

Over the next two months Cara practiced her new strategies. She became more aware of her manager’s behavior and trained herself to respond differently. She and her boss started having more productive meetings. In our last phone call, Cara was thrilled to report she’d been invited by her manager to work with him on a special project!

Do you have a manager, co-worker, or employee who rubs you the wrong way? If your conflict with this person doesn’t produce the outcome you want, it may be time to visualize the outcome you do want — and then change your reaction to make it happen.

Coaching Call To Action

This week plan for the potentially contentious interactions on your calendar. You know which ones I mean.  What is the outcome that you want?  What will you do differently to get that outcome?