There Are Two Sides To Every Story
I had an interesting coaching experience recently, and it had nothing to do with my leadership coaching clients. These days I am fortunate to be contributing to five different organizations as a volunteer, and frequently I find myself utilizing my coaching skills to help these groups in different ways.
A leader from one of these organizations reached out to me and asked for advice about how to handle a ticklish situation with a colleague. I and a volunteer colleague hopped on Zoom and tried to give this leader options about how to address the conflict with the colleague.
As we were listening to this leader’s recounting of the drama that had unfolded, I kept saying to myself “We are hearing only one side of the story. I must remember that this is merely one person’s perspective. I am sure there is a different perspective from the other leader and I can guess what that might be.”
As the Zoom meeting concluded, we thanked this leader for having the humility and comfort to reach out to us and offered luck in resolving the situation.
Two days later the second leader involved in this misunderstanding and miscommunication reached out to me, asking for a Zoom meeting to discuss the same situation. I agreed to listen and offer my insights tp hopefully assist in resolving the same situation.
As I suspected, this leader had a completely different perspective on the situation. She did not understand why the first leader had been so upset and did not judge the episode to be a “big deal.”
The first leader had thought it was indeed an important incident that reflected upon personal leadership of the organization. Clearly, the two leaders had very different viewpoints on what had transpired.
Unfortunately, their communication about the issue had not included a complete articulation of their underlying assumptions. Each person had made up stories about what the other person was thinking and about their consequent behavior and decisions.
Then, based upon their history of communications, they each had convinced themselves that these stories they had constructed were the truth. We call this jumping up the Ladder of Inference.
When the second leader was speaking with me, she told me she was disappointed that I had made conclusions about the situation without waiting to hear her side of the story. I was chagrined that she felt that way, given our friendship and relationship.
I explained that when I and a colleague were on Zoom with the first leader, we only had that leader’s perspective to work with in terms of offering constructive suggestions. I told her that I had been sure that her perspective on the incident would be very different, but that at the time I did not have the benefit of that perspective.
This second leader and I continued our conversation. I offered several tips that might help her in future interactions with her colleague. We parted on good terms and, just as I had done with the first leader, I wished her luck.
I reminded her that she and the other leader frequently have different paradigms about things and that it is always important to respect other people’s opinions, especially people who may disagree with us. I used one of my favorite coaching phrases: Every human being craves being understood, not being agreed with.
As I exited this online conversation, I reflected on my two Zoom coaching sessions with these leaders. There are two sides to every story. As leaders, we must always remember that if we are to serve our teammates.