“So, Sophia, what do you want to discuss today?” Larry was in his fortnightly 1:1 meeting with Sophia who had recently joined his team. Sophia had become part of his team when his company, XL Care and Support won a couple of tenders from the NHS and two local authorities to take over 20 mid-sized supported-living schemes to support people with mental health support needs.

Winning those tenders added almost 350 people to XL’s headcount taking their staff numbers to over 700. It also added two new team members to Larry’s team. Sophia, who is the Qualification and Apprenticeship Manager and Janet, a Learning and Development Administrator. Previously, Larry had three people on his team. Mo and Brenda are Learning and Development Advisers and Shelly is also a Learning and Development Administrator.

“I don’t have anything to talk about Larry. You booked the 1:1 and that’s why I’m here,” replied Sophia in a confrontational way. For Larry, the meeting was already starting on a difficult foot. “Why in the world did she have to be so difficult?” Thought Larry.

Larry’s “self-talk”  was also not helping. He came into the meeting expecting it to be difficult because his mental perception of Sophia was that she is difficult, and aggressive and she does not like to be questioned.

“Sophia, It’s your 1:1 and I expect you to bring something you want to talk about in relation to your work.”

“Larry, I didn’t ask for a 1:1. If I need one, I will ask or put it in the calendar and let you know.”

Larry bit into his lower lip. He was fighting hard not to say or do something stupid. “Okay, that’s fine. If you don’t have anything to talk about I do.”

Sophia flashed Larry a sharp look before saying, “go on then.”

At that point, Larry knew this meeting wasn’t going to go well but he was not about to give up. “The things I want to talk about are, the low number of apprenticeship registrations, starting management apprenticeships for support staff, and reporting for apprenticeships. I also want to tell you about…”

Larry never got to finish his statement. Sophia did not give him the chance. Neither would he get the opportunity to talk about any of the points apart from the first one.

“Larry, I don’t understand why you want to talk to me about the low number of apprenticeship registrations. Or maybe I don’t know what you mean. Tell me more.”

Larry swallowed hard. He knew where this was going.

“Well, I wanted to check with you why the number of apprenticeship registrations over the past three months has been low. I just want to know if…”

“Larry, my job is to source and provide apprenticeship opportunities for people. What I cannot do is force people to sign up for them. I’m in control of what I do but I can’t control what staff do. If they don’t want to sign up for them that’s not my problem. I see no reason why you should be having this conversation with me. I think we should talk about something else.”

“Look, Sophia, I am not blaming you for the low amount of registrations, I just want to get your view on why you think this is happening.”

“What do you mean by my view, Larry? The answer is I don’t know. As far as I’m concerned, I’m doing my job. It’s not my fault if the bulk of staff are not aspirational. If they are interested in learning, what can I do about that.”

With a tone of voice that was a bit stern, Larry said, “Sophia, I think you are being a bit defensive about this issue. I just told you I’m not blaming you for the low numbers and…”

Sophia cut him off, “how can you call me defensive? Are you saying I am avoiding my job? I really feel harassed by the way you are talking to me. This is not fair, I’m….”

Larry put his head in his hands as Sophia went on and on.

When she finished speaking, Larry looked up at her and smiled. “Look Sophia, I can see you are upset. Let’s have this meeting another time.” Then he stood up and walked out of the room leaving Sophia still sitting.

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