*This article was featured in the Enterprising Women magazine Volume 16 number 4 edition in 2015
One day the phone rang on my desk and thus began an interesting journey. I was being approached by a large multinational corporation to coach two senior executives who “hated” each other. I was told they simply could not work together and were constantly fighting each other and their colleagues. One was presented to me as being a sweet and usually cooperative woman, whereas the other was the “proverbial bitch,” according to the head of HR worldwide and the local general manager. This was an interesting assignment in conflict resolution between two individuals of apparently similar culture.
One of the candidates was Hong Kong Chinese educated in North America, with a strong traditional Hong Kong Chinese family background (we’ll call her Susan). The other woman, we’ll call Jennifer was Hong Kong Chinese, had been educated and lived mostly in the Southern Hemisphere. My assignment was to make Susan and Jennifer work together smoothly. Otherwise either one or both would be asked to leave the company. The candidates and I were given six months for this transformation. Jennifer walked into my office nervous, interested, and open to working with me – so establishing rapport was easy. What a surprise she was – not the person I had been described at all! This was a capable, strong, intelligent woman, a leader with a huge heart, and a good sense of humor, who was frustrated by what she called the “interference of others.”
As we started to work and dig a bit deeper, I discovered that her father had always wanted a boy and got a girl as first born, which in a Chinese family especially, is of importance. I asked if her father treated her as “the boy in the family”? This was a turning point in the establishment of trust. Nobody had ever “seen” this formative aspect which would color her entire way of being – where she would constantly aspire to live up to expectations of others in her choice of career, and in her personal life as an older sister and mother. Jennifer left my office shocked and shaken. She started to journal, allowing her true emotions to surface for the first time in her life. This was overwhelming, unexpected for her, and in order to cope with ease, she was given a very simple and playful exercise to do several times daily.
After several weeks of coaching, using both conventional methods, energy work, and journaling, Jennifer’s big AHA moment came when she was able to see that the root of her issues at work, were a family situation for which she blamed her sibling. Now Jennifer learned to see things from a different angle, to look for the lesson instead of blaming, to see the gift instead of the challenge, to trust her intuition instead of believing what “others” felt/saw/believed and making that her own. Instead of “buying” what others think, she learned to trust herself and make her own decisions. By doing exercises that enabled her to understand and discern what was “conditioning” or other people’s influence and what was truly her feeling/think/perceiving, Jennifer learned that we are often mostly what others make us. In order to function freely and in a fulfilling way, we have to become discerning, to see what is significant instead of the appearance, to break through the illusions we hold. In other words, break the mold and create one’s own life.
This process took about three months of regular work, sometimes anger surfacing, sometimes a flood of tears. It is never easy to let go of old habits and beliefs, which keep us “safe.” In the meantime working with Susan was very different. Although educated in the West, Susan was more traditional and had not wanted to be coached. It amounted to “loss of face” and she was thus very “closed” and a tough nut to crack. After three sessions of small talk, with her playing the role of the sweet, insignificant “door mouse” and arriving late, I decided to ask a seemingly innocuous question (yet for a very private and Chinese person this was a very personal question). What is your birthday? This was not only unexpected for her, it rattled her when I proceeded to show her how I see her, a strong, powerful, gifted woman with empathy and a sense of humor. Never in her life had anyone seen her this way nor acknowledged her, although she felt this to be true yet unexpressed. This session truly broke the ice. Once Susan had understood and felt that she was playing a role which actually suffocated her, and yes she would like to grow into being who she felt she was “inside,” we never looked back. Again here we worked on family issues, using many modalities. I taught her how to use a specific breathing technique for relaxation and de-stressing (I call it power breathing). Susan journaled and we used role-play.
Both candidates had heavy judgments of one another. One despised the other for being “weak,” the other ditto for being too “strong.” Once they had claimed who they were, instead of playing roles they thought were assigned to them, they became more true to self and unashamedly started to live it. They took responsibility instead of blaming others, they were empowered and able to drop the judgment and thus see and accept their counterpart differently. They started to have fun. Both leaders discovered that it is liberating to drop the straight jacket they were conditioned to wear and to embrace that life and career can be about cooperation and joy! At the end of this assignment, both women got promoted and now plot projects together. They have taken the world by storm and are enjoying it. They created and anchored profound, sustainable behavioral change. They have gone from blame to fame!