Old Habits Die Hard


By J.P. Reynolds

A year ago, Claire, who works in HR, attended my UCLA Extension class on interpersonal communication. Her boss, Megan, suggested she sign up and Claire resented having to attend.

As the weeks progressed she warmed to the class and stopped feeling like it was “punishment.” Claire finished the course feeling more confident in her social abilities.

Six months later, Megan thought Claire was falling back into old patterns and in her performance review gave her “2” for communication.

Distraught, Claire was convinced her boss was out to “get” her. I was brought in for some coaching and Megan assured Claire she wasn’t out to sabotage her (the year before she’d promoted her to Assistant Director of HR). They eventually agreed that every Friday they’d meet to review the previous week and make sure things didn’t build up over time.

Then, last week, it started over. Claire and Megan had gone out to lunch with a service provider and Claire felt Megan ignored her. She was infuriated and lashed into a tirade back at the office.

I again was brought in and during my mediation Claire accused Megan of keeping her out of the loop in department affairs. She became a puddle of tears as she gave examples.

Without looking at security footage, it’s hard for me to determine the accuracy of Claire’s perceptions. However, I’ve had the impression that Megan genuinely wants Claire to improve.

Whether that’s true or not, what I do know is that old habits die hard. Adopting new skills and realigning relationships takes much time and practice. And practice implies making mistakes, taking risks, and making more mistakes.

I think Claire has always seen her boss as the problem and that she had to find a way to deal with the problem that was her boss. However, I don’t think Claire’s ever been willing to admit that she’s had a role in any of this.

Claire is playing the role of victim. When she perceived herself being out of the loop, she pouted. When she felt ignored at lunch, she withdrew. When she felt frustrated, she shut down. “There’s nothing I can do,” she lamented. But the New Yorker in me thinks she enjoys feeling sorry for herself!

The most important thing is to take responsibility for one’s communication. From that comes power and from the power comes an increased sense of self-worth. Claire’s challenge is to understand how she’s contributed to this breakdown in communication and to be willing to use new communication strategies. That, though, takes desire and courage.

What about you – do you have a breakdown in a relationship and are reluctant to take responsibility for your part in it?

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