Situation:
An executive in a financial services organization was experiencing conflict with her peers, who saw her as arrogant and domineering. They perceived her as over-stepping her authority and felt she was willing to step on others to further her own career. They experienced her interpersonal style as rude, abrasive, and condescending. Others felt she did not listen to their point of view and took credit for their work. Her manager was tired of people coming into his office to complain about her. The company leaders wanted to retain her because of her technical expertise and business acumen. However, they were considering terminating her because of the negativity she aroused.

Action:
A consultant met with the executive’s manager and her HR business partner to explore their evaluation of the situation. The consultant then conducted an in-depth assessment of the executive, including an individual interview, an extensive interview-based 360°survey, and observation of her behavior at a meeting with her peers. The assessment revealed two main sources of conflict. First, the executive was of a different ethnic background than her peers, which led to some cultural misunderstandings on both sides. Second, she had problematic verbal and non-verbal behaviors such as frequent echoing of what others said and excessive frowning, which led others to see her as domineering or angry.

The consultant worked with the executive individually to increase her awareness of her impact on others. She dropped her defensive behaviors and developed a more open, receptive leadership style. At the same time, on-going conversations with her manager revealed that the executive was being scapegoated by her peers for numerous other problems in the department. The manager made some other personnel changes which resulted in more harmonious interactions on the team.

Outcome:
Follow-up 360°feedback indicated that the executive was now working successfully with her peers and was no longer in danger of being terminated. Her increased polish in negotiating her interpersonal relationships enabled her to put across her ideas with more impact and gain others’ buy-in more successfully. Her improved skill at giving credit and praise to other team members contributed to improved job evaluations and promotions for some of them. And her manager was no longer plagued by constant complainers in his office.

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