Shifting from Arrogant and Closed to Receptive and Collaborative with Communication Coaching

The challenge

Claus, a principal at a global consulting firm, was a highly intelligent and responsive leader. Known for handling himself well under pressure, Claus was considered hardworking, creative, and a subject matter expert in his field. He had made great strides in his professional development, but he was under pressure from the firm’s senior leaders, his team members, and his peers to improve his interpersonal communication with both colleagues and clients.

When it came to receiving feedback, Claus was perceived as arrogant and dismissive. His colleagues and clients found him to be closed to their point of view, especially when it differed from his own. He appeared overconfident and controlling, making it hard for others to collaborate with him. Several of his colleagues had asked not to work with him on projects, and one partner no longer felt comfortable having him participate in meetings with her clients. Claus’ mentor at the firm told him that his advancement depended on him improving his communication skills.

 The Boda approach

Claus worked with his communication coach three times a month. This pace provided consistent opportunities to reflect on his communication strengths and challenges, and to practice new mindsets and skills.

Claus and his coach started by exploring what made it challenging for him to ask for help and seek others’ contributions. He shared that he was educated in a culture where having deep knowledge and quick responses was highly valued, and he had been rewarded in the past for this behavior. With coaching, Claus realized that although this behavior had served well, helping him achieve his current level of professional success, this same behavior was now preventing him from reaching the next level. He decided that he was willing to make changes: to ask for help, to actively solicit others’ ideas, and to genuinely consider these perspectives. He also realized that he would need help to make these changes stick.

With his coach, Claus developed a plan to model the communication skills he was seeking to improve by telling his managers, colleagues, and direct reports about his efforts, inviting their feedback, and considering their perspective. He learned the difference between passive, aggressive, and assertive communication, and practiced assertive communication skills in a variety of settings, calmly and respectfully.

The results

Over the course of six months, Claus’ colleagues started seeking him out again to work on projects together. His inviting tone, improved listening skills, openness to new perspectives, and clear communication style all let others know that he was interested in what they had to say, and that he appreciated their intelligence, ideas, and abilities.

Claus sought opportunities to ask for and receive feedback without defensiveness, which served as an invitation to his colleagues to do the same with him. Being asked for his feedback made Claus feel respected and bright: two values that were important to his satisfaction at work.

Claus became less attached to being right all the time and more committed to helping his team feel heard, appreciated, and like the talented contributors they were. His hard work was rewarded with a promotion, improved staff morale, and better relationships with colleagues and clients.