Paul and Kim talked about how snarky they were being with each other the last couple of weeks. When I inquired what was going on, Paul talked about how stressful work was for Kim. Kim agreed but wasn’t willing to share details. She would just deal with the stress on her own.
When I suggested that it might be helpful to share the details with Paul, she said he would just give advice and tell her what to do. Paul agreed, thinking he was being helpful. Kim said this was precisely why she didn’t open up to Paul about work.
Kim just wanted to share or vent about work stresses. Talking about work not only helped get it off her chest, but gave her enough distance from the situation to see it more clearly. One of her high performing direct reports was leaving the company and she was taking it personally. Paul at some point said, “What can I do?” It was clear to Kim it wasn’t about Paul doing anything. It was about him primarily listening, which allowed Kim to come to the conclusion that her supervisee left because the company wasn’t a good match for him rather than her being a poor manager.
The irony is the less Paul did—listening instead of fixing—the more helpful Paul was to Kim. Instead of taking work stresses out on Paul, she was now beginning to seek him out and feel supported by him.