Naimah was a calm, collected client I had worked with for years. I knew something was up when she arrived visibly frustrated.
She got right to it: “I just can’t get through to Jule, and I’m fed up.”
As VP of Marketing, there was no way to get around a working relationship with the head of Product, Jule. But, whatever the topic, they always seemed to be talking past each other.
Naimah adapted to the “unwritten job description” faster than anyone I’ve coached. She understood how to reach goals through people, her own and her peers. But the “Jule situation” undermined her confidence.
“This big product launch can take our company to the next level—but we all need to work together. And right now, Jule isn’t listening.”
“Everything starts okay,” Naimah continued. “But at some point, he talks right over me—not letting me get a word in. And it’s so frustrating… there’ve been days I just have to walk away.”
Through our work, Naimah had come to know herself well. If she felt her heartbeat rising, she would pay attention. Walking away stopped misunderstandings from turning into conflict, but she needed more here—a way to work effectively with Jule.
That meant getting to the root of exactly what was going on.
In tough situations, it’s easy to fill in the blanks of the unknown with a “story” about why the other person acts the way they do. Naimah could have thought Jule didn’t like her or didn’t respect her, for whatever reason. Instead, I prompted her to collect data.
“Next time you’re in a room with Jule,” I suggested, “take things slow. Do what you normally do, but watch him closely. Try to identify when he starts tuning you out.”
“When he starts talking over me?” she asked.
“No—even before that.”
Executive level leadership is about people, but here’s the rub: You can’t change other people. And if you’re not getting through, or someone is not reacting in a productive way, they won’t often tell you why.
Not explicitly, anyway.
And. By observing them, and paying attention, you can gather data. That data teaches you to communicate with them more effectively.
People will reveal themselves, often in indirect ways. I call this implicit feedback, and it can tell you how they move through life.
Working with other leaders, it’s especially important to tune into the ways they make others feel seen and heard—they’re telling you about what will work for them. When others feel seen, heard, and respected, they’ll want to partner with you on big goals.
Naimah went into her next meeting with an observational eye. She realized Jule had a “tell”—his gaze drifted when she talked about the creative side of the launch. And then he would launch into something about associated metrics.
Conversely, whenever Jule took the lead in the meeting, he led with spreadsheets, reports, and studies that made Naimah want to stifle a yawn.
Connecting the dots, Naimah knew what to do. Almost no one would say “Hey, if you don’t use some stats, I’m not going to hear you”—but on an implicit level, that’s what Jule told her, clear as day.
She reported this back at our next meeting.
“Right,” I said. “Makes sense. He’s a data guy. And you’re all about the big picture.”
“In your next meeting, see what happens when you back up your ideas with a little data,” I suggested. Naimah nodded; she had already asked one of her direct reports to put together a report summarizing the customer surveys that lead to the idea she was proposing.
“I realized I’d been saying ‘The customers want this,’ without saying how I knew that,” Naimah said.
For their next meeting, Naimah came prepared. Before she (re)stated her idea, she led with “We surveyed our customers, and this is what we learned.”
Jule didn’t talk over her once. Finally, Naimah was able to get her whole point across.
Should people talk over each other? Absolutely not. Do people talk over each other and it has nothing to do with a communication preference and everything to do with deep biases and prejudices? Unfortunately yes. I want to acknowledge that when a circumstance like that is happening, addressing it differently makes a lot of sense.
Luckily Naimah’s issue with Jules was less a prejudice issue and more a communication preference issue. It wasn’t Naimah’s job to change Jule. But by understanding what matters to him so she could communicate in a way that landed with him, it made all the difference—for them, their teams, and the company.
Colleague driving you crazy? Can’t get a word in? Top leaders live by implicit feedback—because no one comes out and tells you what’s going on. Our coaches help you see the hidden dynamics. Contact us for a complimentary discovery call.