Saturday, April 14, 2012

Change or Die?

What if a well-informed, trusted authority figure said you had to make difficult and enduring changes in the way you think and act? ...Could you change when change really mattered? Alan Deutschman, Change or Die.
Deutschman's book is based on his coverage of a 2004 IBM Global Innovation Outlook conference, where thought leaders from around the world explored solutions to major social problems and estimated the odds as nine to one against change, even when remaining unchanged could be life-threatening. He outlined three major criteria that promote change:
Relate, Repeat, Reframe
People who want to make significant changes in their lives need support and emotional reinforcement, they have to repeat new learning until it becomes habit, and they must come to view the desired outcome through a different lens (joy, for example, is a more powerful motivator than fear). 

Of course we help clients reframe limiting beliefs and experiment with new behavior, checking in repeatedly to acknowledge progress or explore barriers. And I've always known change is easier and more likely to be permanent when supported by co-workers, friends, and/or family. However, I did assume the coach/client relationship provided sufficient support to sustain desired changes. 

Lately, though, I've been thinking about two clients with the same personality style who came to me for similar reasons -- both are female, both perfectionists who felt unliked at work. Both were in their early fifties when we started our coaching relationship, both extremely intelligent and with great desire to maintain their high standards in a way that inspires rather than intimidating and annoying others. I like them both very much and I think I've given my very best to each. During our coaching hours both have shown major shifts in their thinking, experimented with new behaviors that brought more positive responses from others, and felt they were making significant progress. Neither any longer shows old behavior patterns in interactions with me.

One has developed new friendships at work, become more intimate with her husband, deepened her relationships with friends, and  achieved the leadership position she aspired to. During the same period of time the other, whom I equally respect and admire, has been dismissed from several jobs. Admittedly their professional fields are entirely different; however, the second client says she can't seem to see herself when she slips into the old pattern of being harsh and judgmental.

So I asked myself what the differences might be, and I think one key is that the woman who's changed so happily has a long-term marriage and a long-term best friend. Her husband has also been coached, has been open to changes in their interaction dynamics, and helps her think through any problems she's experiencing. Also, she and her best friend talk regularly, are mutually supportive around personal or work issues either is having, and together rehearse different ways to respond. 

The other client is single and engages with her friends primarily around mutual interests rather than looking inward with the goal of mutual development. Because the old patterns don't show up with me, we aren't able to "catch" them together. So she doesn't have the day-to-day support of someone who can lovingly confront her when she slips into her old ways. We explored how she might surround herself with people who know her desire to change and can provide a mirror to her ongoing behavior, and she's decided to sign up for a week-long self-development workshop. 

No matter what, she'll live. But I'm cheering for her to live the life she wants.