Untangle and grow

A blog by Alison Maxwell

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Feeling in control - issues in coaching

It occurs to me that 'feeling in control' is another of those things that you can have too much of or too little. When I meet a coaching client that feels too little in control there is usually a sense of being overwhelmed, coupled with anxiety and powerlessness. Almost without fail, if I can encourage them to take back a bit of control in their lives  -- often in a very small symbolic way -- this can be amazingly liberating and will often prove a turning point. One recent client gave himself permission to take a short lunch break and get out of the office -- a simple act that did wonders for his sense of personal control and proved a springboard later on for greater changes in his life.

However, sometimes the problem is holding on to too much control... the client who won't delegate or micro-manages their team to within an inch of their life to name two examples. I find this a tougher pattern to work with as there is often a bigger investment in existing behaviour. It is often a slow process of encouraging the client to progressively let go of whatever they are holding on to too tightly and test whether the sky actually does fall in. As one client said' It's a bit like a kite string ... you let go of control a bit at a time'.

So how are things today - too much or too little control in your life?

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Too much of a good thing - issues in coaching

Much of the development literature is fixated on uncovering weaknesses and finding fixes for them. "Do you lack assertiveness/ confidence/ the ability to delegate? " the book titles cry and offer their pat solutions for overcoming such 'deficits'. While important, in recent times I've become more convinced that it is our over-strengths that cause us as much problem in our dealings with others, as our weaknesses.

Daniel Ofman has an interesting take on this subject of 'too much of a good thing'. He describes how our core qualities (our natural gifts) can tip in into becoming our pitfalls when used to excess. Thus helping can become meddling, decisiveness can become dogmatic, and assertiveness can become aggressiveness etc.

Taking this further Ofman suggests that we need to develop the positive opposite of our over strengths to counter balance our core qualities, rather than necessarily eliminate our over-strengths. Thus the assertive individual would do well to develop some responsiveness to others rather than attempt to eliminate their aggressiveness. Ofman believes that this form of compensation is likely to be more successful and productive ... unless of course this too is taken to excess.

Here's a short clip of Daniel Ofman introducing his ideas...sorry the image isn't great

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Newbies and cynics

What a refreshing week - working with a brand new team who oozed 'can do' and 'get up and go'. Not that they were a bunch of Polyanna's - far from it - they were very clear about the size of the challenge they faced and the difficulties of making headway. But somehow this didn't seem to daunt them, and despite the complexities of their labyrinthine organisation they were up for making a difference.

Will this group be as positive in a year's time? I hope so but wouldn't be surprised if it were otherwise. So often weariness, negativity and scepticism seems to creep in, and before you know it today's enthusiastic newbie is tomorrow's down trodden cynic.  Perhaps its the path of least resistance - when you've hit your head on the organisational wall too many times cynicism starts to look like the sane response. However, given most of us spend most of our waking hours at work we owe it to ourselves to remember occasionally the difference we too once wanted to make in the world.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Negativity in groups - issues in team coaching

We'd had  a great day - the group were humming with creativity and the outputs from their discussions covered the walls. I was bringing it to close when a voice piped up from the back. "What's the point?" he asked, "Nobody's going to listen us-  even if they did, what we've come up with is never going to work!". The mood in the room plummeted and several members of the group rounded on the dissenter - why hadn't he raised his concerns earlier in the day, why was he being so negative? Some of the group even made fun of him "Trust you to see the dark side, keep us grounded why don't you!"

Dealing with negativity can be a real challenge as a group facilitator. You want all perspectives to be represented and know that sometimes it is the 'marginal voice' that brings fresh perspective and guards against group think. However the negative voice often isn't interested in solutions so much as proving to others that their pessimistic views are right and realistic - " We're all doomed and I predicted it". Its therefore sometimes a fine line between supporting difference and keeping productive work flowing. All in a days work...

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Cycling with the brakes on

Working with a coaching client recently I had the privilege of watching what happens when someone gets fully 'behind themselves'. Instead of putting his mental energies into what might go wrong in the future and how he might fail, my client started to articulate, with clarity and passion, what he wanted to lead for and the changes he wanted to see in the world. The problems and pitfalls were still there, but he had crossed a threshold and there would be no turning back and certainly no stopping him. Very exciting!

I reckon I have a choice as a coach - exploring the negative or exploring the positive. Do I spend my time helping my client to face their fears and dismantling their blocks, or connecting my clients with what is fundamental and core to them, and let their own energy take hold. Both are legitimate conversations but I do find that while people are often very skilled at defending their anxieties and maintaining their worries, they are less adept at  trusting themselves and committing all their resources to their aspirations. Its like they're riding a bicycle with the brakes on.

'As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live' - my second favourite von Goethe quote.