Untangle and grow

A blog by Alison Maxwell

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Do we live in separate universes?

I never cease to be amazed at the difference in perspective that two people can hold - its almost as if we live in completely separate universes. Its happened to me twice this week - I am talking to a coaching client about their take on the world and separately talking to their boss about how they see things. Apart from the odd coincidence of facts - dates, places, people - the interpretation of events is completely different, and equally compelling. This makes finding the ground of coaching extremely difficult and I find myself working to find out where views coincide enough so the work can begin.

This is particularly the case when the coaching assignment is around the behaviours of the individual and too often the debate becomes a clash of perspectives. One man's assertiveness is another man's aggression. One woman's planning is another woman's over controlling. This gets particularly tricky when both parties claim the 'truth' of the situation as their own perspective and it is easy to get drawn in believing one party over another.

A productive way out of this I've found is to focus on impact rather than intent. I've rarely met anyone who intends to show up badly at work, and will defend tooth and nail the positive intent behind their actions - " I was only trying to get him to hear all the facts". Shifting the ground to the impact they have on others - "I can see how I spoke upset him" -  and the perceptions they create is often more fertile and less defended ground.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The 'pink and fluffy' stuff.

OK I've going to use the 'F' word - feelings - I know it is not fashionable but there you go I've done it now. While the value of emotional intelligence is not new news, what is it about the very hint of an emotion that make many of us head for the hills? Worse still, how come we have to deride 'feelings' as the 'pink and fluffy' stuff when often they are the most challenging part of our relationships ...  or is it because they are the most challenging part of our relationships?

Daniel Goleman reckons that all conversations - including hard headed business conversations - have an emotional content which we can choose to pay attention to, as well as a factual content. It could be as 'in your face' as fear, sadness or anger, or more subtle and lower key such as resentment, amusement or boredom. Whatever is present, all emotions have an impact whether we admit it or not and colours what becomes possible or impossible. When we ignore or suppress the feeling content of a situation we cut ourselves off from an important source of data about what is going on for both parties. I've often found in my coaching practice, for example, that the emotional content has been a more accurate predictor of intent rather than the sophisticated rationalisations and justifications we often show up with.

Here's a link to Daniel Goleman talking (55 min) at the Google University about the productive use of the 'pink and fluffy' stuff  and the emotional subtext of our conversations.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Contracting for the internal coach - issues in coaching

The complexity of the role of the internal coach hit home to me again last week. I was talking to Derek --not his real name -- a newly appointed internal coach who was struggling with the many competing demands on his time and the conflicting 'pulls' he was experiencing from different stakeholders.

To me this all came back to contracting - the practice of clarifying upfront what can be expected of the coach and the coaching relationship. Rightly, this is given emphasis in the external coaching world, with subsequent problems often tracked back to a failure to contract adequately. However contracting can often be underplayed in the organisational context where it can be assumed that roles are clear or conversations about 'ways of working' unnecessary.

Derek's life would have been simpler if it were just one client he had to worry about - his problem was that he had not one but multiple clients - his coachees, his boss, his divisional Director, the HRD etc... you get the picture. None of these agreed or indeed were very clear about what they needed of Derek and his role was in danger of becoming confused with the line manager or worse...some sort of organisational stealth police. Not good and can be avoided with some honest conversations upfront.

Here's some 'how to' advice on contracting - click here for more info.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Response-ability: developing the pause 'muscle'

Driving home the other night I witnessed a hilarious and simultaneously alarming instance of road rage. Cut up by another driver, I watched an aggrieved motorist get out of his car and beat the bonnet* of his persecutor's car with his hat, whilst roaring his displeasure.  A very 'Basil Fawlty' moment - spleen was vented but not a lot else was accomplished.
This reminded me about the value of the pause - the ability to stop, take stock and choose our response to a given situation - response-ability if you like. Instead of operating on 'automatic pilot' triggered by an event or situation we can engage the rational part of our mind long enough to make a more considered response. We may still choose to beat the bonnet but at least we are choosing not reacting.

The 'pause' is therefore central to our EQ and is a muscle we need to develop especially for stressful times. Peter Senge** has a very useful exercise called 'Moments of Awareness' which you can use to build your 'pause' muscle. It goes like this:

  •  Pause and ask yourself: 
    • What is happening right now? 
    • What do I want right now?
    • What am I doing right now to stop me getting what I want?
  • Make a choice.
  • Take a breath ..... move on