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Coaching: By Design or By Default?

May 15, 2018

I’d rather listen to this than read it.

A number of years ago, I began to see a pattern in myself that I could no longer overlook.  Whenever I coached an older female client, I experienced an internal dialogue that was critical of them. YIKES! That’s a big f-ing deal!  

The foundation of my work as a coach is in seeing the hero in every client. My internal disparagements were infecting me and my client relationships and souring our results. Oh, I could always justify or explain away my criticism. “She’s being a victim.”  “She’s just wanting attention.” But when I looked at my default patterns and the results they created, it was clear. I was the problem.

Default Patterns

We all have patterns. Patterns of thinking, feeling, and wanting that reflect experiences from our past and how we’ve been shaped by them. Not metaphorically or figuratively shaped, but literally, neurobiologically shaped. Our brains, our minds and our bodies have been shaped by the events of our lives and the meaning we’ve made from them. And if we are not aware of it, we bring that pattern of being into our present moment experiences with our clients.

The perniciousness of these patterns is that they tend to be invisible to us. They are our “default settings.” They lie outside our conscious awareness. And because our patterns are largely hidden, we will tend to cling to, explain and defend them, even when they don’t serve us or our clients.

We will experience a given moment and believe that our internal reactions are reasonable and responsive to the unique situation at hand. And yet with help from reflection and self-examination, we can see that we’ve had many moments just like this one, with different people, in different circumstances, that yielded similar results. And we are the common denominator.

The Power of Reflection

One way we can detect these hidden default patterns is through self-reflection. In reflection, we can become aware of how our unconscious self can take over, applying a lens colored by the past, to the present moment. Reflection helps us see trends in relationships, behaviors, performance and outcomes that we wouldn’t see otherwise.

For years when running CEO roundtables, I regularly asked members to present their lifeline, a chronological explanation of the pivotal moments in their lives. Routinely, as roundtable members narrated their lifeline, some obvious patterns would emerge that had been hidden previously. (e.g. Changing companies every seven years like an itch, engaging in partnerships that failed for similar reasons each time, cycling through employees whom they adored in the beginning and despised by the end.)

After much reflection and self-inquiry, I realized that the pattern in my coaching relationships with older women was based upon my relationship with my mom, which has been a roller coaster for most of my life. (We are now in a stable, positive place, I’m thrilled to report. Aging has helped us both. :))

Since I’ve become aware of this default pattern and its origin, I can now spot it more quickly, before it becomes behavioral in my coaching. I can actively challenge my reflexive thinking and feeling, and instead, design my thinking, feeling and behavior to support my client and my coaching. If I sense that pattern kicking in, I say to myself, “That’s my pattern.”  And then I design a thought and a way of being that honors both me and my client. (Says easy, does hard.)

Pattern Detection

As coaches, we are always on the lookout for our own patterns. Because our nonconscious patterns show up in our coaching. Whether we want them to or not. And whether we know it or not. Just like mine did.

We have a responsibility to our clients, ourselves and our coaching to learn as much as possible about our default patterns so that our coaching is responsive to our client’s present moment and not a reflex from our past that we can’t see.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know where I’m going with this. IMO, there is no better way of shining a light on our default patterns (and how they are likely to show up in our coaching) than experiencing the EQ Profile.  

The EQ Profile reveals our default patterns of thinking, feeling and wanting that get in the way of being present in our coaching. From my own EQ Profile, I became aware of my desire to self-soothe by acting quickly in the face of a challenge. Before I became aware of this pattern, I would non-consciously coach my clients toward taking action when they were challenged, maybe even before they were ready. I was unconsciously projecting my own self-soothing strategy onto my client. Not good! And the only way I became aware of that pattern is from my EQ Profile.

By Design or By Default

We can coach by design or by default. We can avoid taking what can be a confronting look at ourselves, and continue to coach from patterns we are oblivious to. Or we can proactively and deeply reflect on our lives from different perspectives using a variety of tools and techniques, become aware of our patterns, and design more intentional choices in our coaching that get our clients better results.  

The choice we are making by doing the work of introspection is the same choice we are asking our clients to make. To examine the hard-to-see aspects of ourselves so that we can create ourselves. We can express our true self in all of our uniqueness instead of following the imprint made upon us by others from our past. We can coach from the space of design versus default. We can be the example for our clients of living a life by design and not by default.

 

Do you know your default patterns? Do you know how they show up in your coaching?

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P.S. Our 2018 training calendar is now set. Check out the entire course catalog or click on the link below for our two new Team Training courses launching soon.

Posted in: Assessment Tools|Coaching|Emotional Intelligence

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