Case 3: It Happens Among Friends

Peter and Mosen were marketing managers in different parts of the same organization. They were responsible for marketing their organization's product into very different sales channels, and reported to different managers, but they both thought it was important to have an effective partnership. They'd been hired in this fast growing firm within six months of each other and from the first time they met they'd developed a camaraderie and willingness to work together for their mutual success. They liked to joke together and had often gone for drinks after work.

Over time, however, Peter was less and less available. Mosen became troubled by what he called the "lack of communication" he experienced from Peter. Peter was making marketing decisions without consulting or informing Mosen. When they were together things seemed fine, but Mosen started getting the distinct impression that Pete was avoiding him. When the organization hired me to help explore possibilities for re-organizing, Mosen confided his concerns about the situation to me. He was convinced that Peter was competing with him for promotion and wasn't sure he could trust him. When I talked to Peter, none of this came out. He described his admiration for Mosen's expertise and how much he appreciated the partnership he had with Mosen. I discretely probed Peter to try and understand what Mosen might be experiencing but all I got from Peter was that the relationship was fine.

I went back to Mosen and described what I'd had heard talking to Peter and suggested that something must be going on that was leading to Mosen's experience of Peter that ought to be cleared up. With my urging Mosen decided to ask Peter to have a "learning conversation" with my coaching. When they came together to have the conversation we started with Mosen describing his experience of Peter being less available and communicative. At first Peter reacted defensively, insisted that his behavior hadn't changed much at all and if it had that there were good reasons having to do with being busy. When Mosen described specific events where he'd been left out of the loop, Pete provided explanations and rationales that had nothing to do with Mosen. I then asked Mosen to describe how he felt and what he wanted and Mosen described how much he missed the quality of relationship and the fun he'd had with Peter.

At this point Peter got less defensive and more pensive. He said he was surprised by what Mosen was saying. As I explored Peter's experience of Mosen at work and away from work, he stopped, stared off into space and finally said "I've been trying to pretend that it's OK, but it's not OK. I didn't want to admit that I feel put down by you so I've been just ignoring it. But I guess I started thinking you don't respect me." As it turned out, what to Mosen was just "joking around" had sometimes landed hard on Peter, but he didn't want to show it or to admit to himself that he was bothered by it. He seemed to have a hard time just admitting that he was hurt. They were both pretty uncomfortable by the whole tone of this conversation, and to lighten the mood we joked about them being a married couple. Mosen was surprised and apologetic about the impact he'd had on Peter and they reaffirmed their desire to be in partnership with each other at work, and agreed to go out for a drink. Mosen said things got better after that.

An unconscious thought, feeling, or want can be a very powerful determinant of our experience and, because it is unconscious, be outside our choicefulness. Peter wasn't aware that he thought Mosen didn't respect him. He didn't want to have that thought so he kept it out of his awareness. But that didn't stop it from influencing his behaviour, he just didn't notice that he was avoiding Mosen. That's what often happens with unconscious thoughts - they influence our actions in ways we don't consciously choose. Other people notice the change in behaviour but we don't. In this case Peter's unconscious thought was causing him to do things that were at odds with his conscious desire to be in partnership with Mosen. If they hadn't had this learning conversation it's likely that their partnership would have continued to fall apart.

It's important to understand that a portion of your experience is composed of thoughts (beliefs, values, opinions, judgments, cognition, and so on) and that some of your thoughts can be out of your awareness but still part of your experience. Bringing these thoughts to awareness almost always requires being in conversation with others. It's much more difficult to do it just by yourself.

Note the importance of checking out what's going on with yourself first. When something is 'off', it's worth paying attention to. As you can see, not doing so can be costly through loss of collaboration, sharing of ideas, divisiveness that can spread, and avoiding opportunities.

Learn the skills of being an Aware Self in Innervate's Clear Leadership course.

learn more- case 4: it pays to check it out

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

- Marcus Aurelius

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