Today we publish the final part of this five-part series by Peter Luscombe


People Skills …

A wave of contrition swept through Jan. Her headache returned full force. ‘I owe Geoff an apology. It’s only right I admit my mistake. I don’t know how I’ll do this, however, it must be done.’ With this thought foremost, Jan realized that her shoulders and neck were tight. She felt stressed. She felt miserable. Seeking to ease her discomfort, she stood, took off her business suit jacket and hang it on the back of her chair. Seated again, she surveyed her desk and sighed. She gently rubbed what she knew was the crease in her brow. As she did, Jan caught movement out of the corner of her eye. It was Sophie.

‘Excuse me, Ms Worthington. May I ask your advice?’ Sophie hesitantly said, as she stood with a file in hand, however, looked like she’d take flight at any moment.

‘Surely, Sophie.’ Jan pulled out the chair that resided at each work station for colleagues to sit during work conversations. Jan’s had sat for an indeterminate time squarely against the edge of her work station; rarely pulled out for use.

Sophie looked slightly startled, then sat. ‘Well … it’s like this …’ Sophie went on to explain. Jan listened intently, without interruption. Sophie, gathering confidence, concisely yet comprehensively outlaid the problem she faced. Jan listened. Only once did she interrupt.

‘Every change begins with small steps,’ Jan told herself as she listened to Sophie call her Ms Worthington for about the fifth or sixth time. ‘Sophie,’ Jan said. ‘I see the problem. You’re outlaying it well. By the way, call me Jan.’

Sophie, quite taken back, first said, ‘Yes, Ms Worthington,’ then catching herself with a slight flush to her cheeks went on to say, ‘Yes, Jan.’ Her name sounded awkwardly pronounced, however, in Jan’s mind it was a beginning.

The discussion between them went on with Sophie posing thoughts and Jan adding on to them. Sophie still called her Jan in a hesitant way, however, she felt some progress had been made. Jan was amazed at various point by how Sophie approached matters. They weren’t her way, however, they would produce results. She wasn’t about to abandon ship with practices and perspectives she’d found proven through experience, however, she begun to realize there might … just might … be other approaches for other people which worked; produced desired results.

Jan gently rubbed the crease between her brows. While her headache had receded somewhat into the background, it still nagged.

‘Are you OK, Jan? You seemed momentarily distracted.’

Jan caught herself up. She felt her back straighten and her shoulders go squarely back. ‘It’s nothing. Really. Just the distraction of a silly headache. Really nothing at all.’

‘Yes, Ms Worthington.’

‘Oh, I’m sorry, Sophie. I know that sounded snappish. We all get headaches from time to time, right?’ Jan gave a hesitant, yet for once, a smile that extended to her eyes.

‘Oh yes, Jan, we all do. The stresses of life and work and all.’ Sophie returned the smile.

‘Sophie? I wish to ask you a question and I want a straight forward answer.’ Jan wasn’t so certain where she was headed, however, had any number of questions in mind yet didn’t really know where to begin.

‘Surely, Jan.’ Sophie looked momentarily defensive.

Jan looked over her work station with papers aslant, here and there, yet knowing business had been conducted and solutions found. ‘It’s like this, Sophie. Mr Murdoch noted during the debriefing of my Review that I …’ Jan hesitated at sharing the judgment, ‘… that I lack a degree of certain people skills.’ In a rush she went on to say, ‘I was exemplary in all other areas.’ Jan ground to a halt.

‘Oh, you’re very proficient at your job, Jan. Everyone knows that. It’s respected.’

‘Yes, but, people skills; getting along with others?’

Sophie looked lost for words.

Jan knew she had to seize this moment. ‘OK, I am proficient at my job, however, and that’s a big one right now, am I unapproachable?’

Sophie looked away. Jan knew the answer before Sophie said anything. ‘You’re a very busy person. You have so much to do.’ Instead of speaking, Jan wrestled with herself and allowed Sophie to compose what she wanted to say. ‘Ummm … yes … approaching you is difficult.’

‘Thank you for your honesty, Sophie. I recognize that’s so.’

There was an awkward moment of silence between the two colleagues.

‘I’d best get on to matters then, eh?’ Sophie said in a rush. ‘Thank you for your time and advice, Jan.’ Sophie took this as her way of escaping an uncomfortable situation.

‘Thank you for your time and insights. It’s been interesting. Also, thank you for your honesty. You’ve given me much to think about.’

Sophie stood, gathered the files in an armful of mess in her left arm, and pushed the chair – the ‘hot’ seat – in, then left.

Jan sat wondering.

Thoughts crowded her head. ‘Small steps …one step at a time … one step forward and probably two back … step forward though … Damn! This is so difficult … Here I read all the ‘business news’ and I’ve ignored all those articles about People Skills … time I got up to speed?’ Jan gently rubbed the crease in her forehead where the headache, still incipient, nagged.

Jan sighed. She knew the next step was an apology to Geoff. As hard as that seemed it just had to be done. Jan stood, leaving her jacket hanging from the chair, she took a deep breath, the proceeded towards Geoff’s work station with contrition foremost.