A sad chapter came to a close in the last few days. It was something I had been watching at one remove for a little while, and had been kept up to date with through the reports of a friend of mine who worked at the government agency where the story unfolded.
It all started when a Civil Servant moved from one area of council employment to another. On paper, he had everything he needed to slot in with the rest of the team, who were involved in shaping environmental policy in a council in the North of England.
He had a background in waste management, had worked in a team in another council, and looked like he was going to be exactly the right man for the job.
But it all went wrong very quickly. Firstly, this man had very few people skills. I met him once early on in his new job when I was at a friend’s wedding. In conversation, he was passive and waited for others to start the conversation, which he closed down quickly with one word answers that left others nowhere to take the conversation. He was socially inept, and left the people around him feeling awkward and defensive.
No wonder then, that his new team soon began to “dread” him. To compensate for this, he read management books to try to build some kind of rapport between him and his team. As a result he brought in a bag of donuts, every day. His team ate them for a while, but began to associate them with his “life-sucking presence”. So, they stopped.
As a consequence, the poor man got more desperate to make an impression and build bridges. However, unaware of his body language, he would hover near his staff, standing behind them and reading their computer screens as they typed – silent for 15 minutes at a time. It gave his team the creeps.
In an attempt to break the ice, he also read somewhere that it was a good idea to make jokes. Unfortunately his jokes were often old-fashioned sexist statements. For example, one of his common themes was a sweeping generalisation about women supposedly “not being able to park cars”. In a pub, where you can just move away from the speaker, that kind of behaviour is annoying enough. In his council office, where the majority of his team was female, it was toxic.
After a while, he was placed on a warning, and then another. Then his line manager began to micro-manage him in an attempt to get him to change his working patterns. Then, after a while, he became one of the victims of the recent round of lay-offs due to government restructuring. He has now set up in consultancy – and my goodness, I hope he chooses a role that suits him better than the one he so recently had! Either that, or I hope he finds someone in his area who can help him enhance his people skills.
Talking with the NLP trainers Geoff Rolls and June O’Driscoll, who are well used to working to build more effective and powerful organisations, we agreed how much a good dose of NLP could have helped this man turn himself around.
NLP Trainer June O’Driscoll
The prescription that we would give for him, or anyone struggling in his way is as follows:
- The first major skill that he needs to learn is state control. When he starts to learn how to get hold of that “down” state that he projects so often and which “sucks the life” out of the people he works with, then there is a chance that others will start to enjoy his company.
- Next comes the question of communication skills. He needs to learn to use his new state to speak more effectively with others.
- After that, comes learning how to ask the right questions so that he is getting the best out of his team – and asking those questions of himself, too.
- Another element to add to the mix is sensory acuity: how to really pay attention to others so that he gets a sense of how they are doing in their lives – and in the conversation they are in right now. That way at least he might have an inkling when he is giving others “the creeps”.
- There is also something else. One of his meta-programs seemed to be pretty much internally pointed. He needs to start referring to what is going on around him to draw information from the world. His approach to the world appeared theoretical and to be drawn from books. That’s all well and good – but then you need to watch what is going on in response to your behaviour, rather than just doing what the book tells you to do.
There is also the question of what his employers might have done differently when they first interviewed him. Here are some things to consider:
His skill set appeared to be exactly what his employers needed when looked at on paper. But did they pay attention to the man himself at interview? Did they notice his state, and his general demeanour?
Of course, it’s possible that he shone at interview, and then went “dull” in work – but I find it unlikely in his case, because he seemed unable to change his state no matter what situation he was in.
Did the job interviewers ask the questions that were going to help them really evaluate what this man was capable of? One of the most valuable skills of managers and leaders is knowing how to evaluate the person before them – and that comes from smart questioning.
Once his employers had taken him on, then it was also vital that they were able to respond to any problems they had with him quickly, and to come up with creative resolutions to problems. Putting him on a warning, hassling him repeatedly and micro-managing him clearly wasn’t working.
So what else could they have done?
These ideas sound straightforward, provided you have the right approach and the right attitude to meet the situation in the first place. They are exactly the sorts of skills that you can learn in our trainings.
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