A young lawyer, Robert was constantly being given more work to do, despite having all his time fully committed on other projects. As a result he was often at his desk at 2am, sometimes slept overnight at the office and had been late for his own engagement celebrations.
This workload came from a Partner who would not take no for an answer and who was very abrupt and dismissive.
Missing his engagement celebrations had such an effect on his personal life that Robert felt he had to set some boundaries. The problem was that he did not know how to approach the Partner and at the same time feared he might damage his career.
Damian Gaskin of The Forum Partnership, was working with Robert and four of his peers at a development centre. Facilitated by Damian, the participants had the opportunity to rehearse a key conversation at work, as well as observing and giving constructive feedback to their colleagues.
After listening to Robert describing his situation at work for a few minutes, Damian asked a few straightforward questions:
• what he would like to achieve?
• what, if anything, had he tried before?
• what authentic reaction from this Partner would Robert find most difficult to handle?
With Damian taking on the role of Partner and Robert remaining as himself, they began a meeting that involved Robert approaching the partner in his office to discuss the issue of his workload.
The initial session was very short with Robert unable to say concisely what he wanted. His body language expressed defeat before he opened his mouth and he compounded this by giving a rambling, hesitant and apologetic opening statement. The ‘Partner’ sent him straight back to his desk.
Feedback and coaching began to turn things around and armed him with new skills and a different attitude. He combined politeness with assertiveness to gain the ‘Partner’s’ attention, using voice and body as well as a carefully thought out approach that would appeal to the ‘Partner’ and turn the encounter into a win-win situation.
He tried again. And again. After the first few attempts, Robert realised that he had not only faced the worst response he had feared, but that he had dealt with it calmly and assertively. In the final rehearsal he successfully stood his ground and achieved his aims without being undermined or jeopardising his career.