(This is one of a set of notes from my work coaching founders, CEOs and technical leaders in the tech industry. Originally published in the “Leadership, Management and Being Human” newsletter)
I once worked for about eighteen months with a peer I couldn’t trust. It was awful. I wasted time, effort and attention on parsing his emails, protecting my team and laboriously documenting “agreements” that “clarified the situation” to my boss (which would be run over an hour after we had met to “ratify” them).
And I felt bad. All the time. There’s just something nasty about not knowing: not knowing what will happen in the next meeting; not knowing if an agreement will be kept; not knowing when another email will come in from your boss, from your team, from a peer, with another set of bruises and breakages and emotional upset. And there’s something more than that: having to be around somebody who you don’t fundamentally trust is spooky, uncomfortable, unpleasant.
Below The Surface
I discovered this very simple model of conversations a couple of months ago, and it’s proved useful in debugging some tricky interactions that have come up in coaching, so I thought I’d share it more widely. It’s a simplified version of a model described in Fred Kofman’s Conscious Business (and h/t Gordon for pointing it out).
When we’re talking about anything, there is an “It” – the ostensible subject of the conversation: the bug that needs fixing, or the code that needs writing, or the decision that needs making. The “It” is usually fairly objective and pretty well described. That’s what we think we’re talking about:
Two views of the same, very simple, conversation:
Team lead: we missed the deadline on Monday night.
Team lead (defensive): we had some issues with the offshore team
Boss: are they fixed now?
Team lead (defensive): almost
Boss: almost? why aren’t they fixed today?