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2 Hours of Coaching and $3 Million to a Company's Bottom Line

How a senior executive restored $3 million to his company's bottom line and saved a key customer relationship with just 2 hours of coaching.

The senior executive was furious. He had just been told that his company's award fee had been cut from $3 million to ZERO for a recently completed project. Not only was this a financial blow to his company, it was shaming for him. Even worse, it could potentially put his job in jeopardy.

He was ready to go to his customer with "all guns blazing" to demand that his company's award fee be restored. "Not a good plan,” replied the person he confided in. "Let me refer you to an executive coach who can help you prepare for this negotiation so you’ll have the best possible chance for a successful outcome.”

2 hours of coaching leads to 3 million to a companys bottom line

That same day, I received a call from the executive. He laid out the details of his situation, which included a description of the strained relationship he had with his customer. We went to work using a process that I have used many times over the years to help clients prepare for high stakes conversations. Our coaching conversation concluded with a good strategy and some “homework” for my client. After a quick check in the following day, he was off to the airport to meet with his customer.

Our next conversation took place a day later upon his arrival back home. He enthusiastically reported a successful trip in which his award fee was restored and, just as important, so was his relationship with his customer. Not only did he keep his job but to this day, he remains one of the most respected senior executives in his company.


Potent strategies for turning conflict aversion into effective conversations


What is conflict aversion? Broadly stated, conflict aversion is an indirect way of dealing with an issue or a person to avoid confrontation. Conflict averse people tend to avoid conflict at all costs and have inner dialogues that rarely get voiced – much to their detriment. Consequently, their viewpoint is usually not represented in situations and discussions they may care passionately about.As coaches, we find conflict aversion at the core of many situations our clients are working through. We believe this is an important topic because If not managed, conflict aversion will likely have a negative impact on relationships and outcomes at some point in one's life or career. When people who have something to say don’t join the conversation, good ideas may never come to light and unique perspectives will not be shared. Even worse: assumptions are inevitably made from the various parties’ perspectives and the environment becomes ripe for misunderstandings, resentment, and further disengagement that can lead to project or program failure.

Conflict aversion is not rare. Many people we’ve coached with over the years report conflict aversion to some degree. You might wonder why a person is conflict averse. Often it’s a reaction to the environment and a question of safety. When leaders encourage competition among team members, the intent might be to motivate or encourage creativity and output. But the outcome more likely discourages conflict averse team members because it threatens safety, trust, and relationships. Conflict aversion may develop from experience or it may be temperament –  an aspect of one’s personality that runs deep. No matter where it comes from, you don’t need to stay there.

So, if conflict aversion sometimes gets the better of you, take heart. There are effective strategies you can use – whether you are a conflict averse person or whether you are working with one. The end goal is to improve relationships and outcomes and this can be done by improving your communication.

Okay, so how do you do that?

Being conflict averse is an emotional reaction. It’s a feeling of impending doom when you think about having to speak up because you have a sense of what will happen. The words aren’t even there to say because you may be too nervous to talk. Thoughts are running through your head like, “I’ll sound stupid,” “No one will listen, they’ll just argue,” “I’ll look bad.” Know this is common –  even and especially for super smart people.

The first step is to take control of your nervous system by breathing slow, deep breaths (no one has to know that you’re doing this). This will help calm you. Next, ask for clarification from the other person. Repeat back exactly what they say. People love this because it tells them that you were listening and you heard them. Example: “What I think I heard you say was….Is that correct?” This give you further opportunity to calm yourself as you continue to breathe and slow the pace, reflecting back what you hear. You created a conversation rather than a confrontation. How great is that!

Now that you’ve calmed yourself by using the above process, you might consider a few additional strategies available to you in Back Pocket Coach. One that comes to mind immediately is Strategy #20, the powerful and simple question, “May I ask you a question?” This is a great multi-purpose strategy. And in this particular example, using the question leads you further into the conversation in a polite and non-confrontational way. You show up as curious and interested in what the other person has to say. And you are taking all the confrontation out of it. Before you know it, your conversation will be proceeding smoothly.

Know someone who’s dealing with conflict aversion? Share these strategies.

Reclaim your power now.

Business woman flexing her muscles to show power, isolated on white background Power is an emotion-evoking word. We might admire or fear power, depending upon the context. We hope to have power for what matters — to influence others and to make an impact. That said, power takes on many forms.

The idea of giving away our power — especially unwittingly — is not a welcome thought. Yet no matter how seasoned or accomplished we may be, we all have the ability to get triggered into giving our power away at some time or another.

Some ways we give up our power:

  • Your boss or supervisor goes on the offensive and you get intimidated and just shut down.
  • You are given more than you can manage in the time allotted and you did not negotiate — now all you can do is complain.
  • A colleague is not carrying his weight on a project and it’s putting stress on you. You don’t know how to talk to him, so you don’t. You end up working harder and resenting it.

The common denominator in these scenarios is that you’re out of dialogue. (One-way conversations are not dialogue.) Being in dialogue is empowering for everyone. So how do you get back into dialogue?

The kind of power we’re talking about here only manifests in two-way communication.

When you’re in dialogue, you’re in power.

The following two strategies will help you get and stay in dialogue:

Back Pocket Coach Strategy #4: Help me understand...

You think you understand someone and later find you misinterpreted! “Help me understand” is a way of making sure you are both on the same page. It can also help you remain calm, rather than be hijacked by an emotional reaction. For example: “Help me understand the purpose behind this process.” “Help me understand” also lets the person know you value what he says.

Back Pocket Coach Strategy #12: What expectations do you have of me?

Whether we realize it or not, we all bring different expectations to the table. Instead of assuming you are both on the same page regarding, for example, who’s going to do what by when, clarify! By asking this simple question, you are implicitly conveying your commitment and interest in being aligned with what needs to be done.

We would all ideally like to respond with strategies like these in the perfect moment. But sometimes you miss the perfect moment. If this happens, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, schedule a revisit of the conversation with your supervisor, colleague, client or others, using one of the above strategies. Doing so speaks to your strength and actually gives you the ability to fortify the relationship because it shows that you cared enough to think about it.

As one of our colleagues so aptly put it, “Relationships are built one conversation at a time.” Now that’s powerful.

Get Back Pocket Coach on Amazon here!

Appreciation is the secret sauce.

thank-you-1238361In preparing to write this blog on appreciation, we went on Twitter and entered #AppreciationPolitics, thinking it would be wonderful to find an uplifting story from the political area that we could write about -- something that would give us a reason to wax poetic and get a glow on. Well, not so much. Twitter reported: "No results." What?! Of all the hundreds of thousands of topics on Twitter that garner interest and are share-worthy, there was nothing.

Our spontaneous reaction was to burst out laughing. But, unfortunately this is no laughing matter. Why? Because appreciation is a crucial component for happiness and successful relationships. There is much research that points to appreciation being the number one thing that people want most at work and in life.

Diane and Alexandra have been coaching with individuals and teams for over 15 years. Together we have well over 20,000 coaching sessions under our collective belt. One thing we know from our experience is that both team effectiveness and a leader's effectiveness closely correlates with a culture of real appreciation. You have no doubt had the experience of walking into a room where a team is meeting and were able feel  the appreciation and respect team members have for one another. We certainly have.

And the reverse is just as true. Working in a team of people who are angry, hostile and totally lacking in appreciation for one another is miserable. It's a no-brainer to know which team will be the high performing one. And have the happiest, most satisfied team members.

So while we're probably not going to heal politics and get bipartisan bear hugs going in Congress, we do have the ability to make a difference right where we are -- with our co-workers, customers, bosses and direct reports. And please remember family members and friends! A kind word and a gesture of sincere appreciation can go a long way.

If you want to get an appreciation practice going, here are a few guidelines: 1) be authentic: say what it means to you; 2) be timely: do it now; 3) make it a habit: look for opportunities to appreciate another.

While we are on the subject of appreciation, we would like to appreciate Dr. Charlie Pellerin, CEO of 4-D Systems ( to whom we are indebted for masterfully modeling appreciation. Check out his book, How NASA Builds Teams.

Who will you appreciate today?