Case Histories - Part 2

Note: This is a bonus addition to my series on EQ - Case Histories. Previous installments of all blogs can be found on my website under "Steve's Blogs" -

More case histories from my own experience. Only the names have been changed.

Case History #3

A prospective client said to me, “If you send me an email with the word 'emotional' in the subject line, I will delete it before I open it”.

Bear in mind that I just had met this person as a referral from another client, and not wanting to end the conversation over this one comment, I asked him, “So, how’s business going?”.

He told me with considerable animation about a number of ventures he was engaged in.

“You sound pretty happy and excited about it”, I said.

“I am”, he replied.

“Well, aren't happy and excited emotions”, I said. His reply was not very polite, but he tried to make it a humorous dismissal.

He wasn’t angry. He was just signaling that, even though he might have been well aware of the importance of emotions in business, he didn’t want to talk about it then (and I’m pretty sure, ever).

So much of this interaction is about how things are said. I was provoking him, he knew that, and was prepared to play along up to a point. When I got to the actual point, he stopped the game. I also stopped at that juncture for a couple of reasons.

There are two principles of emotional intelligence at work here which I needed to be reminded of:

  1. If you start persuading, but the other person thinks you’re pushing (whether or not you think you are), they will start resisting. If you want to be successful, you’ll have to then overcome the resistance that wasn’t there until you helped to create it.
  2. The other reason is that it is not important what you say, but, rather what other people hear you say. In short, the meaning of a message is what the recipient makes of it.

So I suggest not having any per-conceived expectations when meeting new people in the business world. The one thing I find which is more useful than anything else is simply to be curious about what’s going on for the other person, and stick to it.

Case History #4

I was once asked to work with a large medical group which, outwardly, seemed to be doing well. As part of my work, I always want to interview the leaders of any organization with which I am engaged. I interviewed all 10 members of the Board, and the Executive Team. As a result of that, it was possible to draw a picture of how the shareholders of the organization viewed the competency of leadership, and what they hoped the organization would look like in 5 years.

One finding was very important: the Executive Team believed that the Board Members didn’t trust them.

The Board, as a whole, was completely surprised by this and it seemed that this finding was completely beyond their comprehension.

A week later, I was talking to one of the Board members at a subsequent Board session. My report had shown that the Executive Team was irritated by the extent to which the Board micro-managed them. They didn’t like it and it achieved nothing. In fact, it was likely that, if the Board let go of this need to micromanage them, the Executive Team could have done a better job because they would be more motivated.

So, I asked him what the reason was for the micro management of the top staff. “Because we don’t trust them!” was his immediately reply. He quickly tried to backtrack on this slip by spending several minutes trying to modify what he had said.

Unfortunately, even though the meeting was on a break, other people in the room heard him, including members of the Executive Team.

Obviously, we had a lack of trust. Interestingly enough, even though this particular Board member didn't want to pursue this subject further, I was able to point out that it was very unlikely that every person on the Executive Team was actually untrustworthy.

There was at least one principle of emotional intelligence at work here which I believe had eluded him.

  1. People who have a blanket mistrust of other people, without cause, actually don’t trust themselves. The end result is that the mistrust of oneself gets projected, unconsciously, onto others.

Perfection is a trap

Perfection is actually a way the mind has of stopping us moving forward. “I can’t take the next step because I haven’t done this one perfectly yet”. Of course, one never will do it perfectly; one can always find a flaw, and that’s the point.

I had a client, an architect, whose dogmatic attachment to perfection meant that the architects who worked for him could never measure up to his threshold of perfection. I once asked him, "At what point can you make critical decisions?" His reply was simple; "When I have enough information." My question was equally simple; "How will you know when you have enough information?" He struggled to answer that, but finally said that he would know when he had enough information based on his experience. I decided to provoke him a bit;  "Sounds more like a gut decision, rather than an architectural one."

Imagine how much time he chewed up on projects waiting for the perfect amount of information to be available to him to make a decision? Imagine also the cost, in terms of his own business as well as the clients’, that he used in the pursuit of the opportunity to create perfect design plans.

Many people in business, however, feel they have to deliver perfect service—and then beat themselves up when it’s pointed out that they aren’t doing this. I believe that, from my experience, the opportunity to beat themselves up is the purpose of the whole exercise, which seems pretty sad to me.

Of course, some business people just want to deliver the best possible service and it may seem harsh to say that that is misguided. The issue, though, is that delivering the best possible service (at any price) may be a good for the individual (it may make him/her feel they’re doing a great job), but it isn’t good for the business. And, if they want their business to thrive, they need to focus on what is best for the business, not them.

Being Right

Being right can be a big problem for people in charge—and indeed for people whose quality of service relies on their capacity to give good advice: accountants, financial advisers, lawyers, doctors, business consultants and coaches, and many other professions.

Yet, surely, being wrong is unacceptable in these people. I cannot have my financial adviser suggesting inappropriate investments through which I might lose money, or a doctor prescribing inappropriate medicine because he/she was wrong in their diagnosis.

So, what’s the problem? The problem is that many people confuse being right with their need to be right, and their attachment to being right. I once knew a CEO who showed every sign of being prepared to sacrifice his position rather than address the fact that he might be wrong about a single part of his decision making process.

Because he prided himself on the management qualities he brought to being the CEO, he couldn’t bring himself to accept that he might be wrong. He presumably had a fear of the (imagined) consequences of making a bad decision.

However, needing to be right about one’s decision making process isn’t really about being right about one’s decision making process. Of course that is a symptom, but it is not the issue. Rather, the decision making process is an instance of a general category of things—called “life”, or “the world”—about which the person needs to be right.

Needing to be right about how the world is, being comfortable in the knowledge that one can predict what will happen to one, is a result of a fear that, actually, the world is unpredictable—and that’s frightening. I might not be able to cope; I might lose control; vaguer senses of threat abound, etc. Needing to be right is therefore a type of needing to control. One way of doing that is to control what happens to us.

There's only one problem with that doesn’t work.

Next week: Surprise!