Part 4 – How a business coach helps people discover new ways of doing things, or being, differently

You’ve heard the quip: insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Can you relate? Is there something in your life that you’ve tried to change but just can’t seem to? Or, a work or relational problem you keep running into that tempts you to point the finger at others but leaves you with the nagging suspicion that you’re contributing but haven’t yet put your finger on how?  Our brains are hard-wired to favor homeostasis1. We will stay in a pattern of behavior simply because it is familiar, even if it negatively affects us and even if we are aware at a cognitive level that it negatively affects us. It’s the reason some people stay in broken relationships, don’t quit smoking, and never achieve their health and fitness goals.

At one point in my career, I received some feedback from a 360-degree review that my co-workers wanted me to speak up more. Huh, I thought. I was hired into the role I held at the time, as one person noted, to bring EQ to a high-IQ organization. I thought of myself as quite open, talkative, and relational. I had never been accused of being quiet in my life. I could even remember a time early in my marriage when my wife said she thought I only listened enough to figure out what I was going to say next! I was tempted to dismiss the feedback outright. My coach didn’t let me off the hook so easily. He suggested a simple exercise, “For a couple weeks, just notice when you speak up and when you don’t, and jot down any observations that come to mind about what you see.” I’m glad he suggested it. In that noticing and reflection, I began to see a pattern. I was holding back in some of the higher-stakes meetings where a lot of the participants were more senior than me. I noticed in those moments a voice telling me that what I say would not be as smart, to the point, insightful, or poignant as they were. I identified a story I had been telling myself since grade school or junior high, through my time in the US Marines, and into my corporate career: I am smart, but not as smart as the others; strong, but not as strong; fast, but not as fast; etc. Yet, I had this feedback that the senior people in the room were the ones who wanted to hear more from me. I was connected to parts of the organization they were removed from. I had a depth and breadth of relationships, and an understanding of the various agendas in the room, that they wanted to tap into.

When I told my coach about all the stories I told myself, he asked, “What purpose did those stories serve when you were younger? And are they still serving you?” My answer was something like, “They helped me stay unnoticed, kept me from getting hurt. And no, those stories are not useful to me today. They are getting in the way of doing my job as well as I can. And I have proof in the feedback from others.” So, we worked together to craft a plan: speak up once in a meeting and see how it goes. I thought I would test the plan in a low-stakes conversation first, see how it went, and then try it in a higher-staked conversation. But, in the very next team meeting, there was a big decision on the table, the boss was directing people to do something that I thought hadn’t been thought through. When it looked like everyone was going to proceed without giving the issue its due discussion, I was tempted by those old stories. Instead, I out loud challenged the boss’s orders and the group’s thinking. In the moment that followed my comment, I waited for a backlash, a reprimand, for someone to start swearing and saying how idiotic that was. Someone said, “Good point. Let’s think this through.” In the end, my speaking up helped the team make a sound decision instead of simply head-nodding and agreeing with what the boss was saying. Not only did I not get hurt, but the boss and the team appreciated it. People made a point of saying so after the meeting.

A good business coach helps you not only see your current patterns but also how those patterns are grounded in your drive for stability or your avoidance of fear or pain; and how those patterns are at least part of what’s holding you back from doing something different, from being a better version of yourself. Then, a good coach helps you see what you can hold on to, let go of, embrace as a new opportunity, and plan for or practice as you do something better.

  1. Kevin Rodolfo. What is homeostasis? Scientific American, 2000.


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