Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Taste of Sadness

Ay, in the very temple of Delight
       Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
               Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
       Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might,
               And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
                 John Keats, Ode on Melancholy
“As a matter of interest,” announced one of my clients, “I now know the difference between depression and melancholy. Melancholy is a sweet sadness I don’t mind. Depression is a much darker place, a deeper pit of despair and hopelessness.”  

This level of attention to the nuances of anguish doesn’t make me uneasy. Indeed, it attracts me. In 2000, I began an ill-fated love affair that took me to ecstatic highs and tragic lows. In spite of the great pain I suffered, I always think of that lost relationship with joy. The reason? I thought I’d experienced the full range of feelings, and I had. But I hadn’t yet experienced the full intensity of feelings, an intensity that’s now more available to me. I find this to be especially true when I’m coaching someone with more mercurial moods than typical of my quieter personality.

It’s easier now for me to establish rapport with clients in pain, to tap into my previous experiences with symphonic overtones and authentically affirm the heartbreak they're enduring. 

But something else may happen that I need to attend to – I can sometimes merge so much I begin to lose my objectivity as a coach, showing too much empathy, indulging in the thrill of feeling what clients are feeling. This won’t help them move from being stuck in their emotions to becoming effective in the external world.  

Some years ago I left a workshop with the commitment to “live life with passion.” After my roller-coaster love affair I renewed that commitment, but reworded it slightly: “to live my own life with passion.” 

I encourage you to think about what clients you’re drawn to and why, and to notice when your own personality patterns may help or hinder the coaching relationship.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Protect the Flame

Have your clients been trying to ignore or overcome their problems? Think of the energy it takes, trying NOT to do something they dislike about themselves. Often people are reluctant to confront their so-called negative aspects because that promises to be uncomfortable. Depending on the level of discomfort, this could range from feeling a "pinch" to what one woman said was like walking the last mile to her own execution.

Psychologist Carl Jung had a dream where he faced into a strong wind, holding a small flame in the palm of his handhis task to protect the flame while continuing into the wind. 

You can help your clients protect the light of their inner potential as they walk "into the wind" of the difficult territory of change. To ease this process, instead of wasting energy not doing something they don't want to do, show them how to go with the pattern but with one small, even playful, difference. 

Here are two examples: 
Jerry was overwhelmed with the burdens of work and felt “entrapped.” When I asked him to locate that experience in his body and exaggerate it, he said it was like “being in a chokehold.” Knowing Jerry was a student of aikido, I asked him how he might release a chokehold in aikido fashion. Later we worked with this image, wedding the right-brain language of metaphor with left-brain strategies, finding ways to give his staff more information so they could do their jobs well and diminish his burden of responsibility.
Karen disliked doing the mundane tasks on her to-do list, one of which—making follow-up calls after an introductory letter—was costing her business. She would retreat into playing the piano instead of making the calls, and then feel shame over falling behind in her work. I asked Karen what kind of music she disliked playing. “I don’t like contemporary classical music,” she admitted. I invited her to consider, “How could you improvise in such a way that you’d enjoy playing contemporary classical music?" She answered immediately, with a laugh, “By jazzing it up!” “Great,” I encouraged her. “Now, how could you jazz up your introductory letter so making follow-up calls attracts you?” I suggested she “put it on the back burner and notice the innovative ideas that begin to occur to you.” This suggestion was based on an understanding of creative thinking: after a certain amount of logical clarity, the most innovative solutions come at unexpected, unplanned moments, often in right-brain images.
For transformational change, the goal is to find solutions, not fix a problem. It doesn’t work to fight against undesirable behavior. It does work to interrupt the underlying pattern of processing information that supports the behavior. 

Stay on the path. Protect the flame.   


(The examples above are from Out of the Box: Coaching with the Enneagram.)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Break the Rules

It's a key characteristic of perfectionists that they abide by rules, and you could unwittingly reinforce that limiting worldview with new skills that also carry rules. A way to break through this pattern is to draw out and reframe, modify and/or break the rules. 

My client Jesse, I discovered, had created the rule that if she used the feedback guidelines we'd practiced, she'd always get the reaction she wanted. Here's how I used humor and reframing to break that assumption. 

When planning to mail a cake for a friend's birthday, Jesse had asked a postal clerk about the packing criteria and cost of mailing the size cake she planned. Based on his information, when she came back to mail the package she discovered she'd over-packed and consequently overpriced her package. 

She asked to speak to the supervisor and explained how the clerk had misinformed her and would benefit from some instruction. Instead of thanking her, the supervisor said, "You asked him to price a hypothetical package? That's silly!"

Jesse came to her next coaching session asking, "What did I do wrong? I used the feedback guidelines, but she still attacked me!"

"Who says you did anything wrong?" I countered.

"Well, it didn't work," Jesse replied.

"No, some people will be defensive no matter how well you communicate your wishes."

"But... but, where is the line?" Jesse asked.

"We all have different lines. There's no way to know for sure when you'll cross someone's line."

"But, but... how can I predict when it will work and when it won't?" She was beginning to see the humor in her plea.

"You can't." By this time we were both laughing. Jesse was learning that sometimes there are no rules.


(from pages 50-51 of Out of the Box: Coaching with the Enneagram).    


Monday, December 16, 2013

Consider the Possibilities

I had a conversation today about coach training and what's essential to being a good coach. After more than twenty-five years and an ever-growing file of theories, models, and techniques, I've come to believe that being fully present and helping clients become fully present are key. In the process, of course, we are informed in an intuitive way by all we've learned and practiced.

Here's the dialogue from a coaching session with a client who wanted to stay present in uncomfortable situations and not withdraw physically or mentally or emotionally. You'll see elements of Solution-Focus, Possibility Language, and Focusing:
Client: “All my life I’ve had the tendency to bolt when I started feeling uncomfortable.”
Coach: “So when you haven’t bolted, when you’re able to stay with being uncomfortable, how do you do that?”
Client: “I tell myself to hold it in place until my sense of resistance isn’t so strong. But talking to myself about it is a real struggle.” 
Coach: “We have three channels to communicate with our resistances: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. You seem to use an auditory process.” 
Client: “Yes, I think in words and paragraphs; I don’t see pictures.”
Coach: “That is good to know, because it means when we shift to a kinesthetic channel we’ll reach your right brain processes in ways we can’t with words. So hold the awareness that you want to move away from something. Where in your body do you experience that sensation?” 
Client: “In my gut.”
Coach: “Expand that sensation and tell me what it’s like.”
Client: “It’s a kind of frenetic energy. ‘Butterflies’ is too gentle a word. It’s wobbly, frenetic.” 
Coach: “Now try that on. Does that feel exactly right, that sense that it’s wobbly, frenetic?” 
Client: “Not quite. An image comes to me from a college program in special education when I worked with autistic children. One of the things an autistic child will do when feeling overwhelmed is what's called flapping." 
        Coach: “Is that a fit?” 
Client: “That’s exactly it.”
Coach: “Ah. So there’s a child in you who hasn’t been able to communicate except through flapping."
We then agreed that whenever she felt the presence of that child, she would listen for what the child was trying to communicate.

Notice I didn’t accept the client’s belief that she never thought in "pictures." Instead, I embedded a possibility in my response and she came almost immediately to an experience that countered her view of herself –– suddenly she was seeing in images. 

Possibility language is also illustrated in the above interaction with the comment, “That is good to know, because it means when we shift to a kinesthetic channel we’ll reach your right brain processes in ways we can’t with words.” 

Another aspect of possibility language was the presupposition that the autistic child would be trying to communicate in a different way.

In short order this client moved from an internal verbal struggle –– trying to force herself to continue doing something uncomfortable (and reinforcing her worldview) –– into a playful, imaginary interaction with a child-like part of herself who’d been “autistic,” unable to communicate except through frenetic physical movement. 

The possibilities are endless.



Friday, November 15, 2013

What You See May Not be What You Get

One of my clients is building his company and has specific requirements for rounding out his current team. While coaching him on interviewing, I realized much of what's on the Internet about "behavioral interviewing" unwittingly invites candidates to say what they think the interviewer wants to hear, instead of showing themselves authentically. 

There's a problem with questions such as "Give me an example of an occasion when you used logic to solve a problem." This signals that the company wants someone with logical thinking, and candidates will do their best to impress the interviewer with their sound logic. Another problematic question: "Have you handled a difficult situation with a co-worker? How?" For someone who wants the job, the only possible answer to the first question is "Yes," and now the candidate's thinking, Hmmm... they want someone who's willing to admit difficulties, and someone who's able to manage difficult situations. Better be on my toes with this one. They're now psyching out the INTERVIEWER instead of vice versa. 

So, when you're coaching clients about behavioral interviewing, here's an approach I learned from a company that helps corporations choose candidates for key executive positions. Their reputation depends on getting it right. And your clients' satisfaction with people they hire also depends on that new employee's continued demonstration of characteristics apparent during interviews. NOT examples of past behavior, but what's right in front of the interviewer's nose. Here's how to elicit authentic behavior.

Before the interview, define the key characteristics being sought:
  • What will fulfill the job requirements?
  • What will serve the company's mission?
  • What will match customer and industry needs? 
  • What will complement the current team composition?
During the interview:
  • Create a climate for relaxed conversation (up to 1-1/2 hours if possible). You want to elicit authentic behavior, instead of "best foot forward" that might only show you what the candidate wants you to see. And you want them to do 90% of the talking.
  • These questions will keep them talking and give you more data (as opposed to short answers that don't tell you much):  Broad, general questions ("Tell me more about..."), Value-judgment questions ("What was your favorite part of that? What made it your favorite?"), Probes ("How so...?" "Because...?"), Reflection ("So that interested you..." then be silent to give them time to continue).
  • Observe behavior during the interview that matches or doesn't match the key characteristics you've identified: (1) Compare what they say with what they do in the interview (if their resume emphasizes creativity and you ask about their creative work, you have no guarantee it was actually their idea/work; instead, invite them to do creative problem-solving with you and observe for yourself how they think). (2) Listen to their language for underlying characteristics. For example, someone who asks, "Am I going into too much detail?" may not be highly confident or a great risk-taker. IMPORTANT: This is only one data point; check it out by listening for more evidence. (3) You can also listen to language to make an educated guess about their personality style (voice loud or soft, focus of attention, etc.); it's unethical and even silly to look for a certain personality -- you want to find someone who's emotionally mature -- but it can give some ideas for building a diverse and complementary team.
  • Be aware of your nonverbal behavior; be pleasant without encouraging any particular line of conversation (they would take apparent encouragement as a sign of what you want and try to give you more what you want).
  • Write down your observations immediately after the meeting. If you take notes during the interview, do so in an easygoing, non-obtrusive way (you might have a checklist of the key qualities you're looking for, and put a check mark when you see one). But note-taking is nonverbal behavior and may detract from the safe atmosphere that makes candidates comfortable enough to show their real selves.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Moment's Insight


While in graduate school, I awakened every morning to a large poster on my bedroom wall with the above quote. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was not the well-known poet of "Old Ironsides" and "The Chambered Nautilus" -- that was his father. Holmes Junior was an associate Supreme Court Justice and one of the most cited 20th century American legal scholars. True to what may have been his intended meaning, the poster mainly symbolized my many intellectual aha's as a Ph.D. candidate in social psychology..

But there is a deeper and equally meaningful interpretation of the poster. The butterfly, of course, represents an obvious and compelling transformation in its metamorphosis from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to gorgeous flight. And the word "insight" means grasping the inward or hidden nature of things.

If I were limited to recommending only one skill to coaches, it would be to develop a finely honed intuition. There are many traditional approaches to intuition training, but my path has been a bit unconventional. I've written elsewhere about my insights using Silva methods. Later, inspired by Carl Jung, I began using the I Ching when feeling stuck on how to approach a client situation or consulting project.

For example, because of my work with a toy company's plant manager and his team, his boss (the parent company's VP) invited me to his annual retreat for all plant managers, to review the MBTI from their previous year's retreat and teach them the Enneagram. It is a BIG company. This was a MAJOR opportunity for me. Except for my client and his boss they were all STRANGERS to me. I only had ONE day to cover two complicated systems. Can you put yourself in my place, and feel the pressure to my ego, the anxiety rising?

I couldn't seem to focus on how to design the retreat, and was actually considering backing out. So I got out my I Ching workbook and threw the coins. I do not remember which hexagram resulted; it might have been #13. I was barely aware of it even then, because shifting my focus to invite my intuition freed me from logical attempts to understand, and I "heard" the clear message to quit worrying what they might think of me, and focus on their needs (yes, duh!).

I called the VP and asked for a thumbnail sketch of all the participants, made some educated guesses about their range of Enneagram styles, bought amusing t-shirts as prizes for "best in type" (on the perfectionist's t-shirt two buzzards sit on a branch, one telling the other "Patience my ass, I'm gonna kill somebody!") and created a client-centered design they appreciated and enjoyed.

You could argue that I might have designed an effective workshop using pure logic. Sure. But I was blocked and needed to get out of my head. Since then I've learned to tune in without props. Whenever I hear myself thinking "Yikes, not sure where to go with this..." I take a deep breath, imagine myself completely in tune and connected with my client(s), and picture (da dum) a butterfly.



Saturday, August 10, 2013

Untying the Knots

My client, Walter Frazier, was an innovative, idealistic leader. He held high standards for himself, his employees, and the company, but he was losing people's respect because of the angry tirades he unleashed whenever he was disappointed with the quality of someone's work. Walter came to me only for help in managing his anger. It would have been easy enough to coach him on how to use anger-management techniques. But my questions ran deeper: Why did he feel so much anger? How could I coach him to break out of the worldview that kept reinforcing his perfectionism? When I led him to this deeper level, he learned how to interrupt the inner patterns of processing information that made him angry. He became less harshly judgmental and his underlying anger began to dissipate. I was able to help him accomplish this shift because of the Enneagram’s power as a coaching tool.  

Most people acknowledge how important it is to act in accord with their internal needs and values. But they're often out of touch with their deepest motivations, behaving instead according to who they think they are, playing familiar roles and piling up trophies from their worldly successes. Often, the very characteristics that propelled them to reach personally important goals now get in their way. People like Walter who are idealistic and quality-minded standard-setters, for example, may find their perfectionism and inability to delegate effectively prevent them from achieving their real goals.  

When we started working together, Walter held a filtered view of how the world should work. Your clients may want to shore up the crumbling mortar of their personality styles when their usual coping strategies fail them, seeking help on how to make more money, quit feeling anxious, change to a more enjoyable job, or find a new boss/lover/spouse. As with Walter, coaching can take clients beyond their immediate requests to what they really want and often urgently need—a way to break “out of the box” of their habitual perspectives and reactions to the world. 

The Enneagram is a brilliant diagnostic tool to identify nine different ways of viewing the world, each of which has a common set of patterns. When your clients know these patterns and how to interrupt them, they'll consistently experience long-term, profound changes. If you do not yet know the Enneagram, click here for brief descriptions and follow the links that attract you.

(From Chapter 1 of Out of the Box: Coaching with the Enneagram)

Monday, July 1, 2013

Evocative Coaching

For years I've searched for an alternative to describing my work as "life coaching." There seem to be zillions of people calling themselves life coaches, from Tony Robbins (I can never be that tall) to Gretchen Rubin (I'll never write a book called "Happier at ______"). That doesn't mean I don't admire success, or scads of money, but I do wonder if the "better" life some coaches promise belongs to the maya category (all is illusion). Efforts, in other words, to satisfy ego.

Then I read that after the Clinton's first (or second, or third) major disappointment in the Presidency, they had a staff retreat facilitated by Marianne Williamson, Tony Robbins (yep), and Jean Houston. Williamson is said to have a quiet demeanor, but picture Houston and Robbins together. Clash of the Titans! Don't know; wasn't there. What did strike me as hilariously theatrical (as I find Houston to be), was her self-description, also shared in an interview with Oprah Winfrey:
"I would call myself an evocateur of the possible, and a midwife of souls." Dr. Jean Houston.
Sometimes my laughter and immediate rejection of an idea are defenses against taking a risk. Sure enough, while I definitely don't resonate with midwufe, I couldn't stop thinking about evocateur. Too grandiose, too foreign, too too... yet somehow edgy and intriguing. Out of curiosity I played around at the online Thesaurus and Dictionary. 

As expected, life coaches are described as "helping people to make changes in their lives, to learn new ways of coping, and to function at their maximum potential." Ho hum. Some synonyms: expert, consultant, guide, counselor, mentor, partner, confidant... and in a lighter mode, kibitzer. At the more directive end, I like buttinski. 

Evocateur doesn't appear in either source, but I found evocator and this is my synthesis: 
"Through artistry and imagination, evocators call forth a vision of transformed reality, elicit passion, and summon others into action."
The synonyms for evocator tend to derive from prophet, including predictor, forecaster, oracle, reader, diviner, clairvoyant, seer, soothsayer, and witch. I admit to all, on occasion.

Following this thread, I googled evocateur. The first hit, of course, was Jean Houston's site, where this description expands on my synthesis above:
"The times of great change and remarkable opportunity are upon us... we can no longer go it alone, but must partner... to share innovative and creative ways in which to rethink and restructure our individual existence within the context of our expanding global communities. To do this requires a heightened awareness, an awakened sense of purpose, and a dedicated commitment to actively seek out the possible."
Evocateur went too far for me, but more and more I liked the intimations of evocator and coined (I thought) evocative coaching. I found only one use of the term in Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, a "teacher-centered, no-fault, strengths-based approach to performance improvement."

Judging from an executive book summary, their model is consistent with my values, based on consciousness (self-awareness, self-monitoring), connection (high- trust relationships), competence (celebration of clients' abilities), contribution (honoring client's input), and creativity (openness to change, being in a flow state per Mihaly Csikszentmihalyl).

If you want to quote me quoting them, remember that Csikszentmihalyl is pronounced, more or less, "cheek-sent-me-high."

While spending most of the day ruminating over all these ideas, I've grown slowly and steadily in love with evocative coaching and I'm going for it. Given the current rate of change, it should take about a week for there to be thousands of us.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Change Blindness

I recently tuned in to a discussion among coaches of assessment results for a client whose profile indicated he knew he was charming and likeable, but lacked depth of detail and follow-through. In spite of his self-awareness, I was concerned about his future in that company. His low ratings among peers and senior management suggested he's seen as  a "lightweight," a perception that can be very difficult to change, no matter how effective the coaching or how committed he is to balancing his influence style. I've seen change blindness on more than one occasion:
Change blindness – a phenomenon in visual perception where large changes are undetected by the viewer.
How many times have you made what felt like significant changes and no one noticed? How often, when working with clients, have co-workers or friends and family failed to observe, appreciate, and reinforce changes? This blindness occurs because others' ability to perceive something new is hampered by what they think they already know. This is often such an unconscious process they might not acknowledge their own change blindness (yep, denial of change blindness is called "change blindness blindness"). 

In a follow-up data-gathering session for a client who'd made significant changes in the previous six months, he and I pondered the fact that others I interviewed were highly focused on some problems from months earlier, even though I specifically asked them how this person is different in the present. 

A way around this phenomenon is to set clients up for success by coaching them to engage others in the process:  
“These are three specific behaviors you'll see that are different for me, and please, when you see me behaving in these new ways, tell me so I'll know I’m on the right track.” 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Don't Drink the Poison

Holding onto anger is like taking poison and expecting someone else to die.
We all know anger is an unhealthy emotion to dwell upon, and yet it's not easy to let go of strong, negative feelings toward someone who has harmed us, perhaps in dreadful ways. 

If you have clients who have set appropriate boundaries, held the person accountable, moved on with their lives, and still the anger persists, an imaging technique can be very effective.

Steve Andreas describes one approach in "Resolving Hate," the Case Report on page 6 of the Spring 2013 Milton Erickson Foundation Newsletter. His client "Sally" harbored hatred toward a once-admired man who'd criticized her unmercifully and with whom she no longer felt safe. Andreas asked her to picture someone she'd once hated and still didn't care for or trust, but had been able to let go of her anger, to describe everything she could about that image.
This person was... about 15 feet away from her, faded, foggy, and in muted color... straight ahead of her, down about 30 degrees from the horizon. When I asked her to move the image of the man she hated into this position, and allow it to become faded, foggy, and in muted color, she immediately felt the tension in her chest release, she could breathe easily, and her anger drained away completely.
He then asked her to imagine several scenarios in different locations where she might encounter the man who'd been a problem, and notice her reactions.
These rehearsals both tested her new response, and also programmed it in, so it would be automatic when she encountered him in the real world... About three weeks later, Sally emailed me: "Today I glanced up, saw him, had the thought, 'Ugh, I don't even want to talk to him,' so I looked in the other direction and kept walking. There was a tiny blip of irritation and then I was over it in about four seconds."