Case History: Interpersonal Conflict

ISSUE:

Communication had severely broken down between a male Caucasian administrator and a female African-American administrator who reported to him. Both were extremely hard workers and valuable employees but could not cooperate well. There was a danger of losing one or both of them if the situation persisted.

INDUSTRY:

Higher Education

SIZE:

Graduate Business School

CLIENT:

Two Employees and their Manager

SOLUTION:

We dispatched a pair of coaches who were ethnic and gender matches to the clients. In a joint meeting, the manager assured both participants they were highly valued, the main reason the the department was investing in helping them remedy the situation beween them. The coaches met in same-gender matches with the clients (male-male, female-female) every other week for several months. Rather than allow the clients to focus on what was wrong with the other each coach kept bringing responsibility for the relationship back to the client with whom he or she was working. Each client was coached in a model for engaging in difficult conversations. They were given between-session assignments and asked to report back on these. As the coaching relationship progressed, each client displayed his or her problematic behaviors with the coach who was able to reflect these back and help the client become self-aware and develop alternate strategies. In the final stages of the intervention we again met in full group session with the manager to discuss results and maintenance activities.

RESULTS:

Each client made considerable improvement in self-responsible behavior. Both reported improved communication and trust. Misunderstandings that would have previously festered were resolved without direct coach intervention being required. After one year both professionals are still in their roles and are reported to continue to work well together. Their unit’s productivity, which had been high before our involvement, climbed even higher but the stresses attendant to workload are no longer compounded by poor interpersonal relations.