My supervisor is intimidated by me and is unable to have a solid conversation with me because he’s worried I will be confrontational. I prefer the word “strong.” He avoids me and avoids conversation with me. If he does talk with me, the conversation is always about HIM. If he thinks there will be any confrontation, he runs. He takes the day off, he makes excuses to use the restroom, he says he has another meeting to get to.
My personality type is “straightforward,” “black-and-white.” Some people see me as confident, others see me as strong-willed. My perspective is “it’s not personal, it’s business.” Yet my boss tends to think it’s personal. How can I have a Crucial Conversation with him so that he won’t avoid talking with me?
Coming On Strong
Dear Coming On Strong,
Thanks for sharing your challenge. How frustrating to feel like others view your strengths as weaknesses. Attributes like “confident” and “efficient” are often associated with great leaders and high achievers. I’m sure this is how you FEEL you should be viewed, rather than someone to avoid and fear.
And yet, the old adage is coming to mind—perhaps it is possible to have TOO much of a good thing. Stay with me here.
You claim to be someone who is confident, but are you someone people can confide in? You claim to be someone who sees things in black and white, but are you someone who is open-minded? You claim to be someone who operates with a business-first mentality, but do you ever put people first? Based on your character sketch, I’m guessing the answers are most often no.
Luckily, these attributes and outcomes don’t have to be polar opposites. You don’t have to give up one to achieve the other. When conducting yourself at work, you can avoid making a Fool’s Choice. Making a Fool’s Choice employs either/or thinking and looks like this: I can either be strong or weak; I can either be confident or a coward; I can either be straight-forward or uncertain. Looking at behavior through the lens of either/or thinking is a setup—one that will hinder both you and those you interact with.
Making a Fool’s Choice to always present yourself as strong and efficient at all costs is limiting your ability to be a team player, to insert yourself in situations where you can make a difference, and to expand and enrich your relationships. You are a human being, therefore you are not one-dimensional, so don’t fall victim to that thinking at the office.
Instead, employ AND thinking. Consider how you can be both confident and approachable, strong-willed and open-minded. Since you are already naturally confident, direct, and efficient, find ways to show some vulnerability. Here are a few ideas:
- When struggling with a project, ask a teammate for some direction.
- When you don’t have all the answers, don’t be afraid to admit it.
- Instead of steamrolling ahead with your plan, pause and get a new perspective.
- Take the first step in learning a thing or two about your coworkers. Find a way to develop a relationship that extends beyond the task at hand.
- Notice when others need to vent a personal frustration or need an extra dose of grace because of something going on outside the office.
When you work with people, it’s always personal. Showing vulnerability will not detract from your confidence and strength. Remember, it’s AND thinking. It will help you be a strong leader AND a trusted, approachable colleague.
Ultimately, you need to ask yourself what it is you really want. I know your nature may be to operate heads down, to value efficiency and effectiveness, to speak your mind whenever and wherever you see fit. But consider if this mode of operation is actually getting you what you want.
I’m not suggesting you become something you’re not; your qualities are essential to success. But I believe you’ll be more successful if you find ways to temper your strengths rather than exaggerate them. If your personality is so dominant that it impedes your ability to have relationships with your coworkers, can you call it strong?
While some may appreciate your style, the response from your supervisor suggests it’s not for everyone. Unfortunately, pushing forward with the mindset that “if people don’t like it then it’s their problem” won’t get you anywhere. Instead, find ways to employ AND thinking in your approach. If you do so, I believe you’ll get more of what you really want—collaborative relationships built on trust and respect, and results.
Best of luck as you move forward.
The ideas expressed in this article are based on the skills and principles taught in Crucial Conversations. Learn more about Crucial Conversations