There are many reasons why people work with a coach. Two major reasons are raising self-esteem and changing behavior – generally with the ultimate goal of being more successful. The royal road to achieving these goals is raising self-awareness.
Each of us have the option to live our lives either in a relatively haphazard way – without much insight into the crucial distinction between the reality and what our minds make of it – or, in a more conscious way. The conscious way requires us to self-reflect in order to become aware of our
- Needs and desires
- Thinking patterns
Doing that allows us have a better understanding of ourselves, and hence have a better control of our reactions and actions. The more time you take for honest self-reflection, the better are your chances to live a more deliberate life.
One of my clients, a recently appointed executive, expressed his reluctance when I suggested that a 360°assessment after his first three months would be a good tool to assist him in his new role. He’s found the idea of getting feedback from his direct reports “not so executive-like”. At the end of the day he is “the boss”, he “should” be the one giving feedback to them.
Now, one possibility would be to leave it at that – that is, accept his view as it is and look for other ways to assist him in his new position. But the other possibility, is to explore what really lies underneath his reluctance. The latter is the way towards increasing self-awareness, and that is what coaching is for! So we’ve started looking deeper…
- What did he feel when he heard about my suggestion of 360°assessment?
- What was his “gut reaction” to it?
- What does he feel when he thinks about getting the feedback from his direct reports?
- What kind of feedback does he expect to get?
- What would that feedback mean to him? In other words, how would he interpret the feedback?
That is simply an exploration of what’s taking place between my suggestion to him and his reaction to that suggestion. It is an exploration of the assumptions he makes about what feedback is; the meaning he attributes to getting feedback from his direct reports; the prediction he makes what that feedback might look like, and what that would mean for him as an executive; and maybe even more important, the question of if he can handle the feedback.
His mind had already begun processing all these questions (upon hearing my suggestion) before he expressed his reluctance to do an assessment – within a matter of milliseconds!
And that’s usually what happens with most of our reactions – within milliseconds our mind processes the given stimulus (in this case, my suggestion). And most of the time this processing takes place without our conscious effort or attention. Consequently, because it’s such an automatic process we just say our reaction was a “gut feeling” or it “just felt right”.
The thing is gut feelings or our first reactions come from well learned, well-rehearsed thinking patterns that have become automatized over time. With the good intention of making our lives easier.
If you don’t turn the light of conscious attention to the processing your mind does, and do self-reflection you’re missing out many opportunities to “know thyself”. Unfortunately, in the fast pace of our days we miss out so many of those chances simply because we don’t either have the time or the energy to self-reflect.
As a result of our exploration my client realized what was going through his mind: He thought he might lose his credibility, power/authority and maybe even the respect of his direct reports if he asked for their feedback. He realized that he feared “what if they come up with all these things I need to work on and what if I cannot pull it off?” “How uncomfortable would it be to know my direct reports are observing how I’ll change or won’t change based on their feedback?”
During the coaching process my client got to explore the important distinction among reality, his perceptions and interpretations of it and his subsequent reactions. Being aware of the underlying anxieties and fear and by questioning them, he is in a better position to make a decision about a 360°assessment.
As Nathaniel Branden has pointed out:
- What I perceive
- What I interpret it to mean
- How I feel about it
are three separate questions. Reflecting on these questions and becoming aware of the distinctions provide the key to self-understanding.
How about you? How many chances are you missing out to “know thyself” each day? And thus, taking sub-optimal decisions? I suggest you start creating opportunities to self-reflect. If not possible during the day, how about you note down your reactions during the day and take 5-10 minutes at the end of the day to go through them.