Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Whistling in the Dark

A coach I mentored described a client I’ll name Mike whose behavior threatened to compromise his law partnership. He’d cancel lucrative cases to work on high-risk, low-pay cases.  

When his partners tried to talk him out of these risky cases, he'd insist he could win. Instead of seeing their concern for the partnership's viability, he thought they were trying to get rid of him. 

His coach thought Mike was probably Enneagram style Six and I agreed. His insisting he could win cases no one else would risk seemed to me a combination of fighting for the underdog and whistling in the dark. ("I can win this case! I can do it!")

With style Six patterns it's often helpful to be very specific, leaving no room for interpretation. I suggested this coach be crystal clear if Mike started defending his focus on low-pay, high risk cases: "Well, you can't do that and stay here." She also decided to elicit his understanding of the problem and get him to be specific: "What are your options? What are you going to do about it?" 

You can sometimes use a pattern to break a pattern; in this case, using worry to break through the tendency to worry by asking "What's the worst thing that can happen?" Mike’s coach rehearsed what she might say in response to his belief the partners were trying to get rid of him: "You’re probably right. I suspect they will find a way to get rid of you unless you change." 

Once faced with stark reality, such clients may talk themselves into changing ("Now that I know the worst, I can do something about it") or they may decide they’ll be better off somewhere else. It’s important to leave the choice up to them. Keep their focus on finding their inner power (but don't tell them that; they'll hear it as advice and unconsciously rebel against it). Get them to oppose themselves, not others they perceive to be in authority, including you.

Early in my career I coached a similar client, who worked in Labor Relations and whose boss had told him repeatedly he had to change his outdated, aggressive negotiating stance with the unions. I tried everything I could think of to help my client hear the feedback and figure out why he was rebelling against the change. Yes, he disagreed with the new, more collaborative approach, but logically he understood it was now a requirement of his job, and he knew how to do it, so his resistance was not due to lack of skill. He simply didn't want to do it. 

I met with the two of them to see if some dynamic in their interaction was the problem. The boss was clear but my client was being so defensive he couldn't hear what was being said. I did get him to repeat back exactly what was being asked of him, but he was too busy explaining himself to integrate the message that this was not negotiable.

A few weeks later I gave up and told him, "I can't think of any way to help. You know exactly what’s expected and you choose not to do it. If you don't respond to your boss’s requests, you're going to be fired in 30 days. It's up to you. You can change or not change. Nobody else can do it for you. I wish I could help, but I'm out of ideas."

He changed immediately, kept his job, and credits me with saving his career! What did I do? Nothing. And in doing nothing I gave his power back to him. He had no advice to rebel against, no expectations to counter. He had to rely on himself.