Untangle and grow

A blog by Alison Maxwell

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

From armour plating to string vest .

Fascinating conversation this morning about our relationship with feedback.

I was talking to George, a newly appointed sales coach, who had been on something of a roller-coaster of self-discovery and we were talking about his journey from loathing feedback to loving it.. well at least being more acceptant of it.

"Every time I went into the boss's office I'd be expecting a rollicking so I'd put on my armour plating and anything he said would just ping off me". For George, the relationship with his boss was too similar to his relationship with his headmaster and it came as a bit of revelation that he might be transferring the associations and feelings of this old relationship onto his relationship with his boss. "I was going in there expecting to be 'told off' and made to feel like a schoolboy again - actually, when I opened up a bit, my boss had some really useful things to say, and even the critical bits didn't smart too much".

While George had make great strides to opening up to feedback he still felt there would always be a bit of him that he would need to protect "It's a bit like string vest now - there are holes to let the arrows through, but I am still covered up".

So how do you receive feedback - armour plated or string vest?

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

"I'm not confident" - issues in coaching

When people tell me they are not confident I'm never quite sure how to take it. It strikes me that people use this phrase in two very different ways - situationally or personally.

For some it is seems to be simply a shorthand expression that they are moving into new territory in which they can't reliably predict the result - e.g.  "I've never done tight rope walking before so I've no idea whether I'm going to fall or not". Used in this way lack of confidence is a prediction of an uncertain outcome in a new situation, but not of a unwillingness to give it a go anyway. Coaching this group of 'unconfidents' can often be a joy as they expand what they can do by exploring into what they've never done before.

For others, "I'm not confident" is a more blanket assessment which seems to be much more personal and final - e.g. "Don't ask me to tight rope walk - I'm not the sort of person who would ever succeed at that". Used in this way "lack of confidence" is often a defence against tackling things outside the norm, and a prediction of likely failure - self-fulfilling you might argue. Coaching this group can therefore be much more challenging as the badge/label that clients have placed on themselves has first to be dislodged. Much more challenging.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Should's, must's and ought's - issues in coaching

How do you know when to bend and when to walk away? This has been a recent question for a coaching client who is finding it heavy going in their organisation. Despite putting in massive effort and extra hours they find themselves somehow still behind the pace, and struggling to know what is expected of them let alone deliver it. Our conversations have therefore turned to how much it is reasonable to try to adapt, and at what point does adaption actually become maladaptation, and the only sane response is to do something radically different or leave.

A tell-tale sign of maladaptation for me is when the “should’s, must’s and ought’s” become a signature of the coaching conversation – “I should try harder… I must fit in .. I ought to be able to”. Albert Ellis, founding father of Rational Emotional Behaviour Therapy (REBT), a forerunner of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), amusingly but rudely called this ‘mustabation’ – a compulsion to rationalise away our own needs in favour of someone else’s. So when I hear a crop of “should’s, must’s and ought’s” my instinct is to get curious about the assumptions my client is making and challenge their source and validity.

Of course we all have to bend a little to fit in, however its also healthy to know when not to. Watch out for your “should’s must’s and ought’s”.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Fixed mindset or Growth mindset?

I've just been reading Carol Dweck book 'Mindset'. According to Carol's research humanity come in two basic flavours - those with a 'fixed mindset' and those with a 'growth mindset'. The fixed mindset is characterised by a limiting belief that that personal abilities are finite or fixed. This shows up as an all consuming goal to prove oneself - every situation calls for a confirmation of intelligence, personality or character. Every situation is evaluated: "Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected?" In contrast the growth mindset is based on belief that your basic qualities can be cultivated with a bit of effort - everyone can change and grow given application and the right experience.
I've often wondered about this - without knowing this research - observing how people respond to being thrown into new situations in the training room. There are those seem to need to be perfect before they even try to develop their skills and reticent to just 'give it a go' in for fear of making mistakes and getting it wrong. Others seem much more able to just pitch in and take the learning, unafraid to hear feedback or reflect on their gaffs. Job one for the facilitator is therefore making it ok to 'fail' and not set expectations of perfection.
Don't you love it when you find an idea that fits observable facts?

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: how you can fulfil your potential London: Constable & Robinson Ltd.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Happy Birthday Blog!

One year and 63 posts later - its the first birthday of this blog! Rather than talking about something that has happened this week in my travels around corporate life - my usual topic for a blog - I thought I'd take a look back at which blogs have proved most popular with you, my esteemed reader in 2011-12. So roll of drums, fanfare of trumpets I can reveal the top 3 most read blogs as:

2. Abdication, delegation, interference
3. The 'imposter syndrome' - issues in coaching

What if anything does this tell me about organisational life and those of us who inhabit the corporate corridors? For me there is a theme here about 'worry'.  It worries me (!) that I meet a lot of people who worry about getting it wrong - as if there was some external standard that they have not been made privy to but will still be judged on. Organisational life strikes me as far more chaotic and messy than we give credence to, but instead we blame ourselves for our alleged inability to cope/be smart enough/be certain enough. On the odd occasion when teams get around to the subject of worry, they are usually relieved to find that others are struggling with similar issues and they are not the only one who feels like a fraud or a poor line manager.

So thanks for all the reads and comments - I still can't get my head around having a readership in Estonia, Australia and Peru but that is the global village we live in. Looking forward year two - keep the comments coming.