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Shaping Better Communicators

Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Conflict solving
Feedback
Internal Communication
Toxic atmospheres

28 October, 2019

Arti Kotadia, director of program management for EIT operations at Peloton Interactive, describes the steps she took to help a team get back on track after a series of communication failures.

Problem

While running a PMO, there was a PM on my team who, in working with her team, would propose ideas that they weren't necessarily receptive to nor were they constructive in providing feedback. It was either being provided rudely or not coming from the best place. As she voiced her opinions about this, she was even further pushed back by her team. From her perspective, she felt as if she was being shut out. It wasn't that somebody had more neutrally considered her idea and determined it an unsuitable path forward but instead had heard her idea, deemed it as unworthy, and thus felt very personal based on the interaction and the way the feedback had been provided. Part of her feeling was that the feedback she was providing them was in an area of her expertise and not the other way around. In the end, however, she was not the final decision-maker. She ended up coming out of this situation feeling pretty poorly about it. During the course of two weeks, she had a few more incidents, each one making her feel like she was being ganged up on and verbally attacked across a couple of teams she was working with. Her relationship with the larger team began to suffer, even with people that she wasn't directly having these interactions with. She felt so frustrated that it was coming out in how she acted with the entire team. From the teams' side, they thought she was being a bit sharper, more aggressive, and as if they were likewise being attacked. Those were things that she didn't even notice she was doing because she was so frustrated by the initial interactions and ultimately was not able to keep an even keel demeanor.

Actions taken

I spoke with her about these complaints in one of our weekly 1:1s in order to hear her side of the story. She did not deny the behavioral aspect but did feel like she was justified in feeling frustrated. Part of the solution, along with sending her to a communication training class, was that we spoke and treated it as a subject matter situation in regards to the right decisions to make or path to take.

  • There are specific interactions where things go one way or the other. However, even with her frustration, she is not allowed to let that negatively color her relationships with the rest of the team. With this, I reminded her that she has a mandate to form and maintain a professional relationship with her team and other colleagues.
  • When she tries to prove a point, even if she's right, people learn in different ways and may not always accept what you have to say the first time. Sometimes people need to fail in order to learn or recognize a gap.
  • There is no limit to what you can do when you provide advice and communication. It is important, however, for someone in a stakeholder position to know when to stop in that communication. You have the obligation to raise certain concerns, but if the other person isn't listening, you have the option to take a different tactic or let it go. You can either tell the story in a different way or more simply, to stop, because of a lack of return. With that, we discussed when it made sense to provide feedback, stop providing it, or not provide it at all.
  • Finally, we touched on escalation paths so that she can raise when things are alarming or risks to the business. There are decisions she can make to decide whether or not an escalation is worth it and then follow that path wisely. In addition to working with her, I also set up someone on ones with the people on her teams, both those who had originally reported the feeling of not being able to interact with her and others that worked with her. In some cases, they gave me permission to provide the feedback to her, but I encouraged all of them to actively raise the feedback regardless. I shared some of her perspective as well: that she had felt personally attacked and gaslit after some of these interactions, unsure of what was wrong, and that the team had not directly raised their feedback to her so she could address it. I communicated the actions she was taking to make improvements, but also reinforced that they too had an obligation to meet her halfway and to communicate with her when they had concerns, especially given that, without understanding their feedback, she is unable to address it.

Lessons learned

  • With all of those things combined, the result was that the team was able to get back on an even keel. I have received feedback that interactions with her have been much more pleasant. Similarly, she has reported back that she feels much less frustrated and that the interactions she facilitates to drive situations with the team have been much more productive for her.
  • Between our conversations and her formal communication training, she has now gained the skill set to communicate more effectively.
  • We've realized that it would be helpful for the teams with whom she works to also receive the same communications training focused on giving and receiving feedback so they also have these tools in their toolbox of skills; however, that is not in plan at this time, and, unfortunately, she'll need to work around that.
  • When we take a step back, we can look at where we could have done things differently, but during the moment, we have an obligation to run with the information that we have while maintaining a level of professionalism in how we work with others. Unfortunately, you do not always win, but there are ways to constructively handle that. That will take you further in being successful at work than other approaches.

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