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Is your 'passion' turning people off?

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Passion motivates us to work hard, to innovate, to drive changes and to accomplish more than we ever thought we could. However, when overused, it can intimidate or drive people away. Is your passion working for or against you?

One of my recent executive coaching clients is smart and very passionate. "Erin" is a strong advocate for the people, ideas and solutions she believes in. The irony is her passion was working against the results she wanted to see.

As I began coaching Erin, I learned that her communication style could be problematic. When she was passionate about something, she would talk a lot about it. In fact, she took so much air time that others felt like she only cared about her own agenda. Because she had such a strong sense of conviction about what she was communicating, she also had the tendency to frame things as, "You’re either with me or against me.”

As you can imagine, others felt put off by her style. Even though her passions were about helping others and doing the right thing for the company, Erin came off as self-centered because she talked more than she listened. And her "me against the world" tone made colleagues feel as if they were always in win/lose situations with her. Few even recognized that her passion drove a lot of her behavior.

To leverage the power of Erin’s passion, I started by helping her get clear about what she wanted to be known for: her desired leadership brand. She loves to teach others, bring innovative ideas forward and build strong relationships -- she is passionate about all of these things. Although these elements influence her approach and decisions on a daily basis, she didn’t convey that in how she showed up with others. Realizing that she was out of sync, Erin started to make some changes.

If your passionate style has been more of a stumbling block than a catalyst for your own leadership, try some of these strategies:

  • Clarify your intent. Help your colleagues understand what this is really about and the intended outcome. Avoid setting up options as "right" or "wrong."
  • Be curious. To foster buy-in, you have to know where others are coming from. Listen more. Ask more questions. Seek to understand.
  • Consider relationships.It’s not just about getting others to say "Yes" or agree with you. It’s also about strengthening your relationships with them.
  • Change the venue. Talk to people one-on-one instead of in a group setting where your style may make them feel more defensive.

The changes Erin put into action have made a huge difference in how she is perceived and, consequently, her impact. Her boss told me that he, other senior leaders and her peers now see her as more credible, confident, capable and ready to take on more. Erin is still her passionate self — she’s just expressing that passion in a way that works.

If Erin’s story resonates for you, I want to challenge you to notice how you communicate when your passion runs high — and how others react to you.

Neena Newberry is president of Newberry Executive Solutions. A former Deloitte executive, she is an executive coach who helps women "think and play big."

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.