Part 2 – How a business coach reflects back to people things people don’t see in themselves
In my very first session as a student coach at the Hudson Institute, it was my turn to practice coaching on a fellow student and then receive feedback from my class. This process is known as fish bowl coaching. I sat across from my “client,” asked some good questions, practiced active listening, and held a long silence while my client gathered her thoughts. I even took meticulous notes, and I felt good about the session. When the time was right, my faculty coach asked me a simple question: “Tyler, what does it do for you to take notes during this exchange?” “I guess I don’t know,” I replied. Suddenly, I felt awash in the realization that I took notes because note taking had been a part of my job for so long that it was now a habit – it was my second nature. In my project and operations management roles, people relied on my notes for follow up, clarification, and context. In coaching, however, you can miss a lot of what the client is saying because you’re catching up in your shorthand. Looking at your laptop or note pad can prevent you from paying attention to the client’s nonverbal cues. Your client might even wonder if you’re really taking notes or checking your email. In other words, it can distract you from being present with your client. I went through this entire sequence of thought and realization simply because a coach saw a pattern of behavior and asked me about it. She didn’t pass judgment or say I had done anything right or wrong. She only asked one simple, powerful question.
People who seek honest feedback in their work (or marriage, or parenting) often have a hard time finding it. The people around us might not want to rock the relational boat, or they might not like the conflict that they perceive their feedback will bring. Others might bring feedback so bluntly, or at a time that’s not right, that it raises all our defenses instead of helping us see an insight. At the same time, it’s uncomfortable for us to hear what we’re doing that gets in our own way or the way of others, and it’s even uncomfortable for some people to hear what they are doing well 1.
Like my faculty coach in the example above, a good coach can offer you one view of how your behavior comes across to others. It’s then your issue to make heads or tails of. Many times, the coach notices something in how you come across in the coaching session (positive or negative) that might also be coming across in your other parts of your life. In my coaching practice, for example, I have worked with several clients in career transition who applied for jobs in a particular field, or geography, or pay band that seems inconsistent with their stated values and beliefs. I point out the disconnect, which is normally apparent to me but not them: “You say that you derive great energy from being outdoors, but you’re applying to jobs that will have you sitting behind a computer all day – what do you make of that?”
Furthermore, we all have blind spots,2 and they are often the flip side of a coin that also contains our strengths. For example, I consider one of my strengths to be that I am conscientious. My blind spot is that in my conscientiousness, I can take on too much work and have a hard time saying no. I have a friend who’s a perfectionist – she turns out amazing work, but she is always at risk of missing deadlines because she wants to get everything just right, down to the last detail. Sometimes, good enough is good enough. A good coach can help you to see your blind spots, to see how they operate in your life and work, and to manage them.
Finally, what we often don’t see in ourselves is the hidden emotional landscape that we operate in. Partly because we’re busy and don’t make time for reflection, and partly because we often think of ourselves as logical, rational, objective beings3, 4, we are uncomfortable looking at relational, emotional, or spiritual aspects of our behavior. Yet, lasting change doesn’t happen without focusing on those aspects.
An effective coach ties emotion-driven behavior back to the bottom-line results you seek, leaves you in charge of what to do with the information that is reflected back to you. Doing so disarms any number of defense mechanisms that you might put up against the feedback and makes you more likely to act on it.
- Jay M. Jackman and Myra H. Strober. Fear of Feedback. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Review, 2003.
- Nate Kelly. “Why Your Blind Spots Are Keeping You Out Of The Fast Lane To Success” LinkedIn. July 15, 2014.
- Robert A. Burton. On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008.
- Dan Ariely. “Are We In Control of Our Decisions?” TED, December 2008.
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