I once had a client we’ll call Phil, who came to see me because, as he put it, “Work is starting to get to me, and I’m not handling things the way I should.” He was a supervisor in a blue collar environment, mostly men, but an increasing number of women.
My usual strategy of listening while the client eases into his story didn’t work with Phil, so I had to start asking very concrete questions about just “how” work was getting to him. Phil remained vague, and kind of meandered around. I finally resorted to an outright symptom checklist.
I thought I detected that he was getting feedback that his way of supervising was a problem, but any attempt to get at it resulted in a filibuster of the “he said, then I said” variety. His demeanor was pretty relaxed, not outright defensive, but his inability to use any emotional vocabulary began to be very prominent.
When I pointed it out he wasn’t offended, would try hard to include feeling words in his next few sentences, but then, almost laughably, he’d fall back into “transcript” mode without any apparent awareness that it was happening again.
Phil couldn’t even contrive, the way most can, a rudimentary story line with himself as the misunderstood protagonist in a mini-drama. It was a success to get him to come back one more time, at which point he thanked me for helping him, even though I had no sense of what was really going on, and told him so. He assured me that he was “better” and thanked me yet again.
A little more than two months later I was at Phil’s workplace meeting with upper management about some prospective training, and I happened upon Phil holding forth in the break room. Unnoticed outside the door, I listened while Phil loudly bantered with two buddies who laughed at everything Phil said, some of it sprinkled with mild obscenities, while the other employees, younger males and females, stared off looking annoyed and bored.
Without knowing anything more specific, I could see that, in terms of Emotional Intelligence, Phil’s EQ was roughly in the sheltered workshop range. Obviously something had happened that forced the nudge by management for Phil to see me, and frankly I’m glad they were the kind of managers reluctant to just get rid of competent “old school” employees, but that’s not enough: changing Phil’s way of operating can only occur with management being hands-on, and fully engaged in the forward evolution of the cultural environment at that workplace. To be continued….