Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Nature of Change

The Sanskrit word Maya is often interpreted to mean "life is an illusion." More accurately Maya is the illusion that we and the world around us are stable and unchanging. In fact, everything is always changing. A good coach looks behind the illusion of immutability to discover the openings and opportunities for change.
Academics argue passionately about which comes first, a change in attitude or a change in behavior. Translated to coaching, do we help clients challenge their beliefs and thus bring about behavioral change; or do we encourage them to experiment with new behavior, hoping different results will reframe their thinking? The answer: both!!!  It's true that new behavior can create results that make old beliefs obsolete. And sometimes a "new view" leads clients to make behavioral changes consistent with that new perspective.

Moreover, change can occur even when clients don't believe it will work. They may be uncomfortable or even afraid to behave differently, but as long as they'll experiment with something and stay open to the possibility it will work, they're on the road to change. 

This is so because the act of doing something in a different way has already begun to act on their beliefs. In addition, responses from others will reinforce their new behavior. Over the years I've noticed about 40% of my clients have changed based only upon insights gained from clear and specific feedback. This surprisingly high percentage is based on three factors: 
  1. Coaches are generally hired by reasonably self-aware people who are ready to change, who've experienced some degree of success in their lives, who are relatively optimistic, resourceful, and self-initiating.
  2. Many clients haven't experienced truly effective feedback. It's hard to know what to change, for example, when a friend says "You're too bossy" or your boss says "We didn't promote you because we need someone with a broader perspective." The behavioral specificity of good coaching is usually a breath of fresh air
  3. Presenting observations in the context of an Enneagram style often lowers peoples' defenses. The collective experience of Enneagram enthusiasts and teachers offers support for the "down-sides" and hopefulness about the potentialities of a particular style. And coaching specifically to an Enneagram style accelerates the process of change considerably.
Another 40% need to try out new behaviors and learn from them. For example, an Enneagram Eight was told she needed to be less positioned and more flexible in looking for collaborative resolutions to problems. She hadn't been aware of her toggle-switch (dualistic) way of thinking – only perceiving two alternatives: hers or "theirs." From that perspective there could only be one "winner" and she'd been determined to win. She also acknowledged how reluctant she'd been to show any vulnerability. It took time and practice for her to make this important shift.

The remaining 20% of coaching clients require a deeper level of intervention. No matter how motivated someone is to change, or how clear the feedback, or how well-rehearsed the skills, deeply embedded patterns affect the nature and degree of change for all Enneagram styles. My clients, like the rest of the population, come from a wide variety of family backgrounds. I've worked with people who were physically and/or emotionally abused as children, or who are recovering addicts and alcoholics, for example. But the negative impacts of previous experiences need not be so dramatic for people to have difficulty with change. Sometimes this means a longer course of coaching, with more support as well as more challenge, more experimentation, and much more patience.