When in doubt, say it plain.
Recently, my client Sara had a situation at work where saying it plain made all the difference. See, her friend was promoted one level up to run a project very important to the CEO and the board. Sara had, in fact, been put forward as a candidate, but the promotion had been given to her peer.
And then Sara was asked by the brass to join the project, and work for her old friend/new boss.
Now, as you can imagine, Sara struggled with this just a little bit.
First, she had to process that she hadn’t gotten the job. And then she had to process that her friend had gotten the job. And then she had to process what it would be like to work for that friend.
Good thing Sara had a coaching session scheduled. We immediately sat down to develop a strategy to help Sara successfully move through the whole thing. She needed to:
- Talk with her higher-up mentor to find out what she needed to do to get the next promotion (notice: I didn’t say, “What she did wrong” but rather “what needs to happen now?” Important forward-looking difference right there). This mentor said Sara is a star and everyone knows it, but that this was not the right permanent slot for her. There’s something bigger she can do, and proving herself on the new project was going to be critical to her future.
- Reflect on what she knows about her friend, and how she’s likely to perform as a boss – what does the past tell Sara about the potential for the future? Sara realized that her friend was a great project manager, and the two of them had success every time they had collaborated on projects in the past. This gave Sara a lot of confidence about what it would be like to work for her friend this time around.
In the first team meeting, Sara’s new boss was a little distant. A little formal. A little standoffish, and this threw Sara for a loop. Was her friend sending her a message? Did she not want Sara on the team? Was Sara a threat? Getting squeezed out?
Once again, we circled back to strategy. I asked Sara, “If you were in her shoes, what would you want to know?”
Sara gave it some thought. “I’d want to know that she had my back, and wasn’t a rival. I’d want to know that she was willing to be a full member of the team, and wouldn’t sabotage me.”
“Then,” I said, “can you say that to her, plainly? Can you say, ‘I’ve got your back. I’m in your foxhole for the duration, and you can count on me’?”
“Can I just say that?” Sara asked. “I mean, just…say it?”
Of course you can. Why not? If it’s what you authentically feel, and it would help the situation – why not say it plain and clear?
The downside to the strategy is that you’re showing some vulnerability, and most of us are itchily uncomfortable with exposing a smidgen of openness out of fear we’ll be laughed at. Or worse. Especially at work.
But the upside. Wow – the upside is all up. Clearly and honestly stating that you are committed to the other person and their mission is the simplest way to strengthen or create an alliance. And once the alliance is firmly in place then the vast majority of time-consuming office politics just fall away. How great is that?
Sara executed on this strategy. She set up a one-on-one meeting with her new boss and simply relayed how much she admired the woman, and how much she’d enjoyed working with her in the past. Sara said she was sure that they would have a similar experience this time, and that Sara totally had her back. “I said,” Sara told me with a smile, “that my #1 job is going to be making her look good.”
Sara felt better, and more energized. Her boss felt supported, and ready to collaborate. Each felt safe in their working relationship. A total win-win.
And all it took was speaking the truth, plain and clear.
If you’re used to talking around a subject – dropping hints and innuendos – and wondering why you’re not getting what you want, let me suggest you try a different tack.
Say it straight. Say it clear. Say it plain.
And be prepared to take a giant step forward.
[Note: to protect privacy, "Sara's" name was changed.]