Perhaps a bit conceitedly, I pride myself on giving pretty good attention to the client even when my wider life is all rather busy. Of course, in reality there are still times when, my attention wanders and I’m distracted by what is going on for me in the moment ….and in doing so, what might be going on for my client in the here and now fades to the background. “Bad coach” I hear you utter … well don’t worry I’ve already given myself a good talking to - many, many times before I wrote this blog !! However, I can’t really apologise for this, as since I’m human, it happens!! And of course the more interesting and useful questions to consider are “why?” or “how?” does this happen? Eye four of the 7-eyed model is where we explore these questions - encouraging us to consider what is going on for us as the coaching dialogue unfolds.
When I look to my own experience I notice two common triggers when I become aware of this eye.
The first trigger is something akin to performance anxiety –rather than paying attention to my client, my attention shifts to myself. A recurrent question is “am I doing okay?” Perhaps the client is going around in circles, or I just offered a clunky question or I simply feel out of my depth.
The second trigger is when something in my client’s story resonates with my own, and I get flipped back to those past memories. When this happens, it’s likely that my own experience will filter what I do or don’t notice within my client’s story.
Let’s take a look an example of the second trigger – when I have a subjective reaction to my client’s story.
My client had been in their organisation for just 18 months, she was hugely frustrated that she had been brought in as a “change agent” but now that she was in the organisation, she was expected to play by the rules with the existing (outdated) processes slowing her down almost to a standstill, she was significantly behind budget and feeling “lost”.
As a naturally forthright individual, she was finding that common sense wasn’t prevailing. We talked through how else she might approach things and got into a discussion of how to manage the politics. I offered a stakeholder analysis as a way of working out how to handle things more “subtly”. Her reaction to this was interesting, she seemed split as whilst her words reflected the logic of the approach, it felt unlikely that she would actually alter her working style.
As I watched her ambivalence at the prospect of having to work differently, I was reminded me of how torn I felt in a similar corporate experience. I commented that observing her I got the sense that whilst she knew “it made sense” there was an underlying question of “but why should I have to work in that way?! That’s not me”. It was spot on, she laughed and this provoked further discussion. However, after a while I became aware that her perspective was now very much about what “they needed to do differently”.
Inadvertently I had colluded with her. I paused and gathered my thoughts, I knew I needed to get some objectivity back. I commented that they really did seem a tricky bunch, but that I was only coaching her, not them. I enquired who she thought she could influence a little (and inwardly I was thinking, let’s rate these stakeholders and divide and conquer – oops! That’s what I did, who knows what she will want to do?).
However, quite matter of factly, she said “none of them….” Ok I said with a smile, so I guess that just leaves you? “It certainly looks that way” she said with an exhausted smile. So tell me, I asked… what’s the shift that needs to happen in you, that will cause the shift you want to see in them? Her response was quick “deliver the numbers… regardless… until I do that, no-one is going to pay any attention to me at all”.
The rest of the session had a completely different focus – her wider stakeholders were forgotten in favour of her own team and how she could galvanise them to turn things around. Her positive energy had returned.
I hope this illustrates how whilst empathy is generally a good thing, and we can bring our own experience into the room to offer insight… there is also a dark side to this connectivity! Has this ever happened for you? And if so, how did you feel about it? And how did you manage to get yourself back on track? I’d love to hear your stories.