by Aletta Wubben
Universities are full of people who want to be special. My own ego can also fill my ears with its seductive whisperings from time to time. Now that one half of the country is coaching the other half, I sometimes feel like a small and diligent ant in an ant colony. Thanks to one of my clients I now see my hymenopteran contribution in a slightly different light.
I was coaching Jaap, a talented scientist. Jaap is an outstanding speaker but as is often the case with very communicative people, he wasn’t very good at listening. Now that he was heading a team, it became increasingly clear to him that he should improve the relationship with the people he was working with.
An opportunity to give his new style a go came when a teacher at his son’s school managed to upset his whole class. In the normal scheme of things Jaap, a member of the parents’ association, would have marched off to the school to give the teacher a piece of his mind. This time he waited and tried to understand what had happened. He had a conversation with the teacher who told him something nobody new: that his wife was seriously ill. The teacher, happy with Jaap’s sympathy, apologized to the class the next day. From that moment he could do no wrong.
When I saw Jaap again he had a big grin on his face. He thanked me ‘also on behalf of the teacher, the children and the principal.’ All that from the actions of one diligent ant.
The following day I trained a group of PhDs. Peter has started a very ambitious research programme only to find he could live up to only a fraction of it. ‘What is my research going to matter in the grand scheme of things?’ he sighed. Of course I couldn’t talk him out of his ‘second year dip’ just like that but when I told him my ant colony story he managed a smile. Not much of a one, but a smile nevertheless.