Narrating our colleagues positively

We recently came across this interesting article by Jane E Dutton and Julia Lee, “The Benefits of Saying Nice Things About Your Colleagues”.

The authors make a great case for positively “narrating” our colleagues, saying that “the stories we hear from others that highlight our unique contributions can help us find purpose in our relationships with our colleagues and our work”.

Executive Coach Exchange narratives gellinger pixabay
The authors of this interesting article make a strong case for positive narration of our colleagues.

They suggest four key opportunities to tell positive stories about our colleagues:

  • first impressions – introducing new team members in a way that builds connections as soon as they start in the team,
  • new projects – highlighting the value that each team member brings to a project in initial project team introductions,
  • when a colleague is undermined – using this opportunity to reinforce the colleague’s value in the organisation, and
  • endings and exits – creating meaning when a colleague resigns or is made redundant, by sharing positive stories about the colleague’s contribution.

The authors provide a particularly powerful example of using positive narration when a colleague is undermined, in the story of “Sasha” and “Svetlana”, two new managers who found it difficult to have their voices heard in a male-dominated work team. The article reports, “They decided to publicly support each other and others whose voices were often not heard. For example, when Svetlana proposed a new plan to reduce costs, Sasha followed up by repeating and elaborating on Svetlana’s idea, giving full credit to Svetlana. … These actions shifted the way each manager saw themselves …”

In relation to endings and exits, the authors explain that sharing positive stories can extend beyond the immediate team, to potential new workplaces for the former colleague. The authors give the example of “Sipho”, whose colleagues were encouraged to contribute positive stories about his contribution, and then found that this prompted and empowered them to recommend him to new employers.

As well as the practical support for the individual in a situation like this, the positive narrative approach can help to maintain a connection as the colleague moves to the next opportunity. The approach also mitigates some of the potential damage to relationships between the remaining team members, creating a better outcome overall for the team than can be the case when a departing colleague is ushered straight out the door.

We all have examples of the damage done by dismissive or negative stories about colleagues in the workplace. This article makes an excellent case for taking an intentional, positive approach to workplace narratives.


What are you looking for in an executive coach?

Executive Coach Exchange doors pixabay qimonoAs you start your search for an executive coach, have you jotted down some ideas about what you are looking for?

  1. Guidance on a challenging work issue

Do you need help to make your communication with team members more effective? Or perhaps you are dealing with a person you just can’t seem to get along with? Working with an executive coach can provide you with insights on how to manage these situations, and on how to build and maintain effective relationships, which can provide you with huge benefits and make your workplace more rewarding and enjoyable.

2.  A mentor

A mentor is usually someone working in your organisation who can give you an insider’s view, while a coach usually comes from an external organisation. However, an executive coach who has worked in your industry or sector can be invaluable, bringing both objectivity and relevant experience, and combining the skills of coach and mentor.

  1. Career progression

Making the transition from team member to team leader is one of the most difficult things you’ll ever do in your career. Reporting to a board for the first time can be a very daunting experience. An executive coach can assist you to adjust your approach to meet your new challenges.

  1. Leading organisational change

Today, organisational change is a constant. Leaders need to be able to establish a new course for their organisation and implement change effectively and efficiently. Managers at all levels of an organisation are expected to lead their teams effectively during times of organisational change. An executive coach can be a trusted ally who provides a confidential environment for you to test your concepts and work through the challenges of leading change.

  1. Help with career transition

Taking the big step to move a new career, either by choice or as the result of a redundancy, is extremely challenging, both emotionally and professionally. When you have been an expert in your field, the first year in a new sector can make you doubt your ability and question your self-confidence. An executive coach with experience in career transition can help you make your change successful.


Starting out with some ideas about what you are looking for will make it easier for you to find the right coach. Different coaches bring different skills and experience. Some coaches specialise in particular skills, like team building, or strategy and business planning. Others work with particular professions, such as lawyers or doctors, or particular sectors, like government. Others still focus on particular points in your career, like on-boarding or career transition. At Executive Coach Exchange you will find a diverse group of executive coaches who cover all these area and more.

Don’t make your plan too detailed and inflexible, however. A coach can shed new light on an old issue and help you see it differently. The process of working with an executive coach can be a catalyst for change.

“You’re getting a coach.”

Catherine Burrows, Founding Partner

In her article, ‘I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Coach!’, Amy Smalarz raises the question: “Why is there a stigma attached to Coaching as we get older?” She examines some coaching myths and concludes, “Coaching is the universal language of change and learning.”

This article made me reflect on my own experience. In 2009, I had just achieved the promotion to the executive position I’d long aspired to. My predecessor had retired after many years in the job and I knew I didn’t have her experience. My new job was exciting and challenging – and very daunting. I was worried my boss, the CEO, thought I wasn’t up to it.

Then the CEO called me into her office and said, “You’re getting a coach.” It was at that moment I knew for sure she thought I wasn’t up to the job. I was dashed.

Then I worked with the executive coach – and what an inspiring experience it was! Coaching gave me a safe space to work through complex issues and conflicts. Because my coach had been in a similar job to my own, I also had a mentor to work with on the challenges of my new role and to explore new ideas and approaches before taking them to the CEO.

Coaching helped me set a course to do my new job my way. And I did.

Later, I discussed this with my boss who told me that she had wanted to support me in the new role and thought executive coaching was a great way to do it. She was right.

In fact, I found the process so inspiring that, when I left that job, I moved into executive coaching myself.

Contributor: Dr Catherine Burrows is a Founding Partner of Executive Coach Exchange and the CEO and owner of Innoverum independent consulting.