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This blog subject line is the title of a great coaching book by
Sarah Hill in which she outlines a coaching approach where the client recounts
their childhood stories and examines how those stories create an internal
narrative that is still present in adulthood.
Last week, I was interviewed by a coaching buddy who is
writing a book. The basis of the interview was to uncover patterns of
behaviour that I’ve had to “unlearn” since training as a coach and to identify
where those patterns have come from. The patterns came either from
teachers at primary school (don’t be overtly intelligent, don’t interrupt),
parents (be charitable, be generous, be kind) and many came from the
workplace. This got me thinking about how, when we change career, we
often need to unlearn some behavioural and thinking patterns that are quite
well ingrained from our earlier careers and that is what I’m going to write
about this week.
My Behavioural Patterns
My whole career has taught me a lot of patterns, some good
and some that I’ve needed to unlearn in order to transition to being a coach.
Amongst the good things have been:
However, it’s the patterns I’ve had to unlearn which are
probably more interesting.
Professional v Authentic
From my very first proper job in consulting, I projected
(what I thought constituted) a “professional” image to my clients. This
was not the real me but a slightly more polished, slightly more serious
version. Going in to consulting at 23, you’re always trying to come
across as more mature and experienced than you actually are. I remember
training a number of senior managers in Athens at the age of 25 in how to
manage the performance of their staff. My presentation was cribbed from a
CIPD workbook on the subject as I’d never (clearly, in my eyes) managed
anybody! But I had the sharp suit and the confidence to pull it off.
These days, as a coach, it’s vital to be completely
authentic with my clients otherwise the coaching relationship will not be
successful. Of course, over the years, I’ve become more professionally
relaxed but that “smart consultant” image is quite a hard one to let go of.
So, it’s taken quite a lot of coaching, encouragement and courage to step into
a more authentic persona and still think of myself as professional. This
may be a work in progress but it’s a journey that I’m enjoying!
Being Right v Being Curious
This one, again, stems from my days as a consultant when I
felt that my clients and bosses needed me to always know the right
answer. The hierarchy in professional services dictated that my bosses,
of course, always had the right answer and that they should never be questioned.
My job was to pick up these “right answers” by osmosis and it would be my
life’s work to file them all away and call on them when needed.
Naturally as you gain confidence in your professional
persona, you become more and more willing to question the status quo. You
become more curious about things and more creative in your approach. And,
being a coach is the complete opposite of always being right. As a coach,
I believe that my client has the best answer and that my attentive curiosity
will help the client to uncover those best answers. Being right is so
often immaterial to the coaching relationship and I feel more naturally curious
Pretending to Listen v Active Listening
This one is a bit of a confession about my days in
recruitment. I interviewed so many people during the course of a week
that, I admit, not all of them had very interesting roles. Consequently,
I perfected what I now call my “interview face”! This is a smiling,
nodding, attentive visage which disguises a mind thinking about what to buy for
dinner. Apologies to anyone reading this who happened to be interviewed
by me during those years. I’d like to point out that this was the
minority of interviews but an “interview face” can have multiple uses...
You CANNOT use an “interview face” in coaching. It is
impossible to serve your clients well if you’re not attentively paying
attention to everything they say, don’t say, their body language, facial
expressions, etc. Luckily, I love to listen actively to my clients
because I know that’s where the magic happens. But, very occasionally, I
do feel the interview face come on. These days, I use it as a cue that my
client might be story-telling or going over old ground (this is rarely useful
in coaching) and it’s a useful trigger to point that out to them and explore
So, after this interview with my coaching buddy, I have
spent a few days thinking about the behavioural changes I’ve made in order to
create a career I love. When I look at my innate strengths, I can see
that my new behaviours are much more in line with my key strengths and that my
old behaviours were “learned” patterns that I perfected in order to adapt to my
earlier career environments. But they were not in line with my key
I have mentioned before that some of my clients find it hard
to move towards their new career, even if they know what they want to do.
And I believe that these ingrained behavioural patterns can be a key blocker
Wherever you are in your career right now (happy,
transitioning, thinking, confused) I think it will be very worthwhile to ask
yourself the following questions:
If it helps, I too have a behaviour to work on. It’s
what I call “breaking up is hard to do”. I don’t like relationships
ending but, with coaching, you ultimately want your clients to succeed on their
own. So, my commitment is to regularly work with my clients on how they
can succeed outside and beyond the coaching relationship. I’ll keep you
posted with how that’s going!
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