Articles and News

Where did you learn to behave like that?


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:

  • Equal reward for equal labour – this comes from my first weekend job at 14 in a care home where the matron paid us the same as the adults as we were doing the same work
  • Teamwork and camaraderie – this came from my second weekend job in the Little Chef which doubled as my social life
  • Work can be fun – this is one that’s always been with me, thankfully

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 than correct.

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 what’s happening.

Moving forward

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 strengths.

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 for them.

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:

  • What patterns of behaviour have I learned from: my parents; my teachers; my peers; my boss; my colleague?
  • Do those behaviours serve me in my current career?
  • Will they serve me well in my future career?
  • What behaviours would serve me better?
  • What one change could I make now to move towards that better behaviour?

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!

If you would like this weekly blog sent directly to your inbox, as well as receive a copy of my “Top 3 Ways to Boost Your Career Happiness Right Now,” please click here.