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I Feel Judged By You

July 5, 2018

My son’s nanny had been with us about a year when we sat down for her performance review. Betty was smart, dedicated, and had great judgment. Great judgment both in terms of her ability to make good decisions and in terms of her propensity to cast an opinion based upon her beliefs. The former type of judgment was a strength. The latter, not so much.

After providing Betty with a glowing evaluation, I told her that just one thing was still niggling at me. I wasn’t sure how to approach it, or even whether saying it would be fruitful. But I forged on, “I feel judged by you.”

Betty was taken aback, clearly unprepared for my comment. “What have I done to make you feel that way?” she asked. “It’s not anything you’ve done or even said,” I replied, “It’s just what I feel.” She was slow to respond. Finally, weighing her words carefully, she said, “I believe that children should be cared for by their parents.” Essentially, Betty was saying, “Good parents don’t hire nannies.” Huh.

What a paradox?!

What Is Judgment?

Judgment, in this context, happens when we form an opinion of someone or some action based upon our own past experiences and/or beliefs. While we take in some information from the present, we tend to focus on the information that supports our bias based in the past.

Judgment can be based upon our past experience with that person. However, judgment is more typically the result of early childhood relationships and experiences, developed as a kind of emotional and/or physical survival strategy. Our judgment applies those past survival strategies to the present, whether or not they apply or are even beneficial to us.  

BTW, Betty’s mom died when she was a toddler and she was cared for largely by her not-much-older siblings.

Why Do We Judge?

We judge for many reasons, but mainly, it’s in our nature. From the beginning of time, to survive we have had to assess quickly the present situation based upon our past experiences. (e.g. We hear someone’s stomach growl and think it’s a tiger. Run!) We judge others with the same speed (and degree of accuracy).

We judge because it’s easy and energy-efficient. Judgment is black/white, right/wrong, good/bad, should/shouldn’t, innocent/guilty. Seeing and attempting to understand people as shades of gray or bundles of both good and bad (as are we all) is time and energy consuming. (And it’s in seeking the gray, accepting the bad with the good, that Emotional Intelligence lives.)

We judge because it’s satisfying. It gives us what we want, each according to our own personalities. (Our judgments are always about us.) Our judgments make us right, better, justified. And that is comforting to our small self. However, it also keeps us locked in separateness from those we judge.

What’s the Harm?

Judgment is costly, to both judger and judged. When the judger judges, she has essentially decided what she thinks, feels, and believes. Period. Done. End of conversation. Judgment traps both the judger and the judged.  

The attitudes and the behaviors of the judger (created by the stories that the judger makes up about the judged) limit what she can see to what conforms to her judgment. The cost then, to the judger, is that she misses the opportunity to learn from and be challenged by the judged. Losing the chance to find a place of growth and opportunity for herself. Missing the value that is or could be created by the judged.

The cost to the judged is more pernicious. The judged feels persecuted for an unknown crime. And, consciously or more often unconsciously, feels boxed in by the judgment placed upon them, held within the invisible walls of limitation set by the judger. The judged begin to doubt their ability to expand beyond the confining and unyielding judgment of the judger. In this way, judgment can become self-fulfilling, which can be experienced by the judged as self-defeating, and by the judger as making her right.

We all judge all the time. It’s part of the human experience. The key is being conscious of our judgments so that we can be free of them. And in being free from them, be in relationship with each other and in connection with ourself and the present moment.

Because if judgment is black, then acceptance is white. And acceptance is what provides the possibility of a present, transformative experience with others.


The challenge for the judger (which is all of us, BTW) is to accept the possibility that their judgment might be just that, a judgement, projected from themselves and not a fact about the other. The work for the judger is, as Susan Scott would say, “to interrogate reality.” To check out their assumptions, to be curious and open.

Identify your most troubled, important relationship and consider: how are you judging them? How do your judgments keep you right, better than, separate from? How might your relationship improve if you did nothing more than drop your judgments, give up the need to be right, and become accepting of, and curious about, who they are? Give it a try!


I don’t remember now if I continued to feel judged by Betty after our conversation, and it didn’t matter. She was invaluable to my son and our life.And I suspect that naming the elephant in the room was enough to dissipate the wall of judgment between us. She ended up working for our family for eight years until we moved out of town.

Interesting twist, three years after that initial review, Betty corralled me one afternoon to tell me she was pregnant. She was expecting the unexpected. Long story short, a few months later, Betty gave birth to her daughter. After her paid maternity leave, Betty came back to care for my son in our home, bringing along her own daughter. It was a win, win; a relationship of true interdependence.

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P.P.S. Did you know…. you can use insights gleaned from the EQ Profile to better recognize and break through coachees’ patterns, even without them taking the assessment? Learn how in July at our new Master Class: Insight Mapping.

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Posted in: Emotional Intelligence

The Emotional Intelligence (or Not) of Immigration

June 27, 2018

For most of my life, I’ve shied away from political topics. Political discourse has always felt somewhat-to-completely futile to me. (Perhaps it’s my ‘wants’ orientation that needs a kind of ‘do this – get that’ relationship to get me motivated.)

Also, I’ve found that political issues have a way of bringing out the ire in otherwise kind and generous people. And I’m not eager to have that heaped upon me.

Now, futile or not, ire or not, I can stand quietly by no longer. My hope is that what I write brings about understanding and connection that ultimately makes a difference.

So, with great trepidation, I wade into the timely and highly political topic of immigration with a blog post (guaranteed to be at least partly futile and somewhat ire-inducing) that hopefully sheds some light on the Emotional Intelligence (EQ) aspects of this issue.

Note: While I’ve been accessing anger and experiencing at least a couple of its gifts (in particular, direction setting and motivation), my intention is to keep that anger out of these posts (as anger rarely connects us all).

The Emotional Intelligence of Immigration is About Boundary Setting and Compassion

I’m no expert on immigration. And I don’t have a solution to the challenges that illegal immigration presents to our country. I do know a bit about Emotional Intelligence as we define it at Learning in Action. And the EQ essence of the immigration debate is boundary setting and compassion.

As it relates to boundary setting, you might be thinking, “Well, duh!”  Border/boundary – same/same. OK. From an Emotional Intelligence perspective, boundary setting is about defining where I stop and where you start, what’s ok and what’s not ok between us, and what’s mine and what’s yours (particularly when we are in conflict). The ideal boundary from an EQ perspective is one that allows us to be both separate from and connected with each other. (Says easy, does hard.)

And if we tend toward thicker boundaries, compassion can keep us connected while we work out our differences. Compassion is the glue that can help us stay in relationship in tough times. Compassion connects us with others through shared thinking, feeling and wanting, and honors the inner experience of others.

Staying separate and connected (with healthy boundaries) and compassionate can be extraordinarily complex, energetically challenging and incredibly uncomfortable, particularly when we are in conflict. I call it “withstanding the thousand tiny paper cuts of being in relationship.” And it’s tough to get it just right and most of us don’t. And we can try.

Blurred Boundaries

Because the ideal EQ of both separate and connected is so challenging, most of us tend to lean one way or the other – toward either being unseparate or unconnected – when we are under stress. When we lose our separateness, our boundaries can tend to blur, making it difficult to separate what’s me or mine from what’s you or yours.

When we experience blurred boundaries, particularly under stress, we can tend toward one or more of the following:

  • Take more responsibility than is ours to take (e.g. taking on the physical responsibilities of others and/or responsibility for the emotions of others)
  • Allow others to take advantage of us (e.g. allow others to expect more of us than is reasonable, though we may not perceive it as too much at the time)
  • Enable others to not do their part (because we are doing it for them, often before they choose to do it for themselves)
  • Not be able to define clearly what’s ok and what’s not ok in relationship (perhaps because others violated our boundaries when we were growing up and there is no space in our brain that can define what a boundary is – that’s a whole other blog post to come)
  • Fear/belief that setting a boundary will end the relationship (perhaps because we’ve become so unconsciously enmeshed in the relationship that drawing a boundary can feel like an ending of both self and other)
  • Become exhausted and overwhelmed taking on too much, disconnecting us from our own joy

Do you identify with any of the above statements?

To be clear, most of the above occurs outside of our consciousness. Those of us who lean toward blurred boundaries tend not to recognize the porousness of our experience because it’s the wallpaper of our lives. We don’t see it about ourselves except perhaps when someone with healthier boundaries points it out. (It’s often something we’ve learned that we don’t know we’ve learned.)

When our boundaries are so blurred, we can literally lose ourselves. And as a nation, if we applied our blurred boundaries to our immigration policy, it would pose an incredible challenge. On our resources, on our energy, on our own joy. So, clearly, saying, “Hey everybody, come on in! We’ll be responsible for you!” is not healthy. Not healthy to us as American humans or as a nation.

Boundaries Too Thick

When we don’t err on the side of blurred boundaries, we’ll tend to err on the side of being unconnected or disconnected from others. Creating boundaries that are too thick when we are challenged. When we are disconnected from others, we don’t feel their pain, we distance ourselves from their humanness, we “really don’t care.”

When our boundaries are too thick, we can tend toward one or more of the following:

  • Believe in the idea of ‘every man for himself’ (perhaps because we learned from an early age that we had to look out for #1)
  • Not consider the impact we have on others, being unempathetic to the feelings/needs of others (perhaps because we weren’t attuned with as children, no one recognizing or sharing with us in our feelings/needs)
  • View interactions with people as transactions versus relationships, ‘dealing’ with people, instead of relating with them (perhaps because that’s been a successful strategy for us in other parts of our lives)
  • Become angered by others not behaving as we expect them to (perhaps because we learned to look outside of ourselves as our point of reference, and life rarely gives us exactly what we expect)
  • Separate ourselves from others through blame, judgement and devaluation.
  • Believe that the end justifies the means, placing policy over people and their welfare.
  • Ascribe to the idea that being right ‘trumps’ all else. (It’s about the principle!)

Do you identify with any of the above statements?

Perhaps not? Some of it sounds pretty mean and heartless. And when we are being challenged (the way that we can feel that illegal immigrants challenge us), we can be triggered into a default way of thinking, feeling and wanting that we are barely, if at all, conscious of. We can have an inner experience like what’s described above, without being aware of it.

Conscious or not, too thick boundaries are not healthy for us as humans or as a nation. As humans, when our boundaries are impenetrable, they keep us protected and everyone else out. And it keeps us alone. Physically, emotionally, or both. It prevents intimacy, connection, love. Something we all need. As humans and as a country.

As a nation, thick boundaries (whether through walls or policies or tariffs) assume that we can survive somehow completely on our own in the world, without friends, without allies, without alliances. And we can’t. Not in the long run.


Regardless of our tendencies to lean toward blurred boundaries or too thick boundaries, empathetic compassion can keep us in relationship when it’s hard to be in relationship. Empathetic compassion taps into our heart, connecting us with the feelings and needs of others.

When we are empathetically compassionate, we know, care and share in the feelings of others. It keeps us leaning toward others versus away when the going gets tough. People who don’t experience empathetic compassion, simply don’t care about the thinking, feeling, and wanting of people, especially when they are in opposition with them.

Many things can block people from experiencing empathetic compassion. Personal hardship, wealth, racism, righteousness. (See more on Empathy in this related blog post.) And it’s rarely a conscious choice people make. It’s often a result of how their brains have been shaped by the events and relationships of their lives.

We’re All Human

Most of us are unaware of how boundaried or compassionate we are when we are being challenged. These aspects of our internal experience are largely unconscious to us. (That’s why we created the EQ Profile – to help make what’s unconscious to us about our inner world, more conscious).

For the most part, boundaries and compassion are not conscious choices we make. Rather, they are the result of the relationships and events of our lives and the meaning we’ve made from them. Those relationships and experiences have influenced our beliefs about what’s required for us to survive in the world.

And the experiences that have created those beliefs have shaped how the neurons in our brains have wired together and determine what feels comfortable and right to us. And what feels comfortable and right gets reinforced as our patterns of thinking, feeling and wanting play out. So, for some people, what feels comfortable and right, what feels necessary for survival, is to keep others out.

Understanding this, that our boundaries and our degree of compassion, are not completely our choice, helps me to understand and be empathetic toward the people who favor separating children from their parents as a deterrent to immigration.

To be clear, I’m not saying these people aren’t responsible for their actions or that connection or compassion are beyond their choice. I’m simply suggesting that understanding how these folks may have come to their position, understanding their perspective, helps me give them some grace. And I can regard them with compassion as fellow humans. I can give them what they don’t give others or perhaps themselves.

The Emotional Intelligence of People Who Favor Separating Children From Their Parents

It is easy for me to make up a lot of mean and sinister stories about the people who decided separating children from their parents would be a good deterrent to immigration. Making up stories is what we humans do. It’s part of our neurobiological make up. And those stories we make up can easily turn into judgments that then further separate us.

So, I can’t and won’t speak to the motivations and intentions of the people who made these decisions. I wasn’t there. I don’t know.

And the EQ orientation of those people is one of thick boundaries and low compassion. With such an orientation, illegal immigrants, parents and children can be otherized, blamed, judged, dealt with, and ultimately treated as objects. And all of that can be justified with the belief that the end justifies the means.

People in favor of separating children from parents don’t want illegal immigrants coming into our country, using our precious resources, taking our jobs. And they can feel comforted in that stance with the belief that they are in the right. After all, it’s the illegal immigrants who are breaking the law. They are the ones putting their families at risk, not us. They are responsible for their choices. We are just enforcing the laws of our country, as is our right. Right?

And people who favor this type of treatment of parents and children, illegal or not, immigrant or not, have developed their orientation (whether they are conscious of it or not) as a means of their own physical and/or emotional survival.

The Emotional Intelligence of Immigration

Emotional Intelligence is messy. And staying connected and separate and compassionate is challenging and hard and complicated and often uncomfortable. And what’s right isn’t easily determined. And staying in relationship while we figure out our challenges can be energetically draining.

Immigration is messy. It’s complicated. It’s not easy to see what’s right. If it was easy, we would have figured it out.

And whether referring to EQ or immigration, turning our backs on the pain of others is never the answer. It just can’t be. When we disregard the suffering of others, we are denying and degrading a part of ourselves. We can not disconnect ourselves from others without also disconnecting from a part of ourselves. We all lose when we do. We just may not see it.

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P.S. If you haven’t yet,Subscribe to our Friday Conversations Blog.

P.P.S. Did you know…. you can use insights gleaned from the EQ Profile to better understand clients and other people, even without them taking the assessment? Learn how in July at our new Master Class: Insight Mapping.


Not an EQ Profile practitioner?
Click here for information on the EQ Profile. Too much to chew on? Click here for a Taste of the EQ Profile.


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Posted in: Assessment Tools|Emotional Intelligence|EQ and Current Events|Learning in Action

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.

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Posted in: Assessment Tools|Coaching|Emotional Intelligence

When Talent Isn’t Enough for a Team

May 10, 2018

This week, while Alison Whitmire takes a week off from her blog, we welcome a guest blogger: our own Corrie Weikle*, Learning in Action’s Director of Training.

There were five minutes left on the clock. My ice hockey team was down 2-1 to move on to the national championship. It was the classic “Not enough time left, and my team is down by one point to get to the big game” story. You’ve heard it before. 

The bench where my team sat was a depressing place to be.

Having little emotional literacy at that point in my life, I’d say we were a bunch of doubt-filled, negative Nancy, glass half-empty miserable people. The stakes were high, stress was soaring, and we were consumed by our own risk-driven internal experiences.

If you’ve happened to take the EQ Profile and you recall the dimensions, you’d say my teammates and I were primarily negatively-oriented, and likely over-accessing many of our distressing feelings.  

The Breakdown in My Blind Spot 

Everything we had worked so hard for was on the line, and our ability to perform at our best was traded for sloppy mistakes and anxiety-induced inconsistent teamwork.

As a team captain, I was leading from a place of fear, risk, and disconnection. I couldn’t see beyond my own lens that I was applying to the situation.

I was focusing on a minuscule amount of all available information and accepting it as a truth. I didn’t have knowledge or skills in reading my teammates, and so I had zero awareness of the internal experience that they brought to this conflict with me. Above all, I didn’t think I had a choice in how to react to the situation or to my team members.  



I share this story because it is not unlike many of the workplace teams we work with and coach today.

A workplace team with tremendous talent, trying to accomplish big things in the world, and full of blind spots, can be derailed by the inability to successfully move through conflict and stress. A championship might not be on the line, but stakes are high for any business. The common denominator of sports teams and workplace teams? Micro, and sometimes macro, conflicts are the norm when it comes to working with other people, including the most talented of people.  


A Question of Cultivation


As coaches, we know there is no question that emotional intelligence is essential for overall team effectiveness. That story has been researched and told many times.

Instead of focusing on the team as a whole, I ask this question: How can emotional literacy and deep awareness of our own internal experience allow us to become a better teammate, coach, or leader?

And what is underneath that awareness? How does self-awareness of our default patterns cultivate connection and allow us to work in team environments more effectively?

These are a few possibilities I’ve learned from applying the lens of the EQ Profile to team conflict and stressors:

  • Seeking to understand our own internal experience means seeking a vocabulary to communicate our internal experience with those we are in relationship with. When others don’t understand us, it can be frustrating. Sharing a common vocabulary allows us to connect, communicate and focus on how we see the world with those we interact with.

I’ve heard countless stories from you, our coaches, about how the team you are working with repeatedly experiences shades of the same conflicts. When each team member gains the language to discuss the lens they see the world through, the results can be a game-changer.

With awareness, the team cultivates a new vocabulary to communicate their internal experience. Instead of focusing on the conflict itself, the conversation focuses on which teammates see risk vs. possibility in the situation. The team focuses on how anxiety or fear might be showing up for some, while others are feeling triggered with frustration.

Through communicating the lens we are applying, we move effectively through conflict and stay in relationship with our teammates.

  • Our lens and focus determine how we give and take feedback. Effective feedback cycles require trust. Giving and taking feedback is imperative for team success.

But what if our internal experience blind spots become behavioral? That can keep us from receiving the authentic feedback we need to be successful. Or what if our own focus on the contributions of others to the problem is keeping us from seeing our own role in it? This might propel us to provide feedback  to our team that appears shameless or unaware, as if our own stuff doesn’t stink.

Learning a deep understanding of our default patterns and where we are likely to focus under stress, helps us understand where we might be getting in our own way when it comes to giving and taking feedback.The bedrock of team effectiveness is trust. Awareness of our lens and focus cultivates opportunities to build trust, instead of unconsciously breaking that trust.


  • The more we understand our own world lens and default patterns, the more we can get curious and authentically connect with the other. Understanding ourselves means understanding how we were shaped in relationship at a very young age.

Self-awareness for me has been a challenging and rewarding exercise in empathy compassion, both for myself and for those I work with closely.

It took me many years to fully understand and internalize the relationship between self-awareness and empathy. The questions that drive this awareness for me now are “Why is it difficult for me to empathize in this situation? And what does that say about the lens I’m applying to the situation?”

The deeper our understanding of the nuances and drivers of our own internal experience, the more we can get curious and be intentional in empathizing and connecting with others in their internal experience.

Imagine a team leader who can shift the energy and conflict dynamic because they are able to feel their own distressing feelings, and then be with their teammates who are experiencing their own unique distressing feelings, too.

To finish the hockey game story, we lost the game. As I think back (with a lens of self-awareness, of course), it was a heart-wrenching loss. Not because we didn’t make it to the national championship, but because our own blind spots and lack of awareness kept us from working effectively together. We missed the opportunity to move through the challenges presented by the game. We got in our own way. Our talent wasn’t enough.

This story is a sliver of my overall athletic experiences in which I got in my own way because of my lack of self-awareness. If I had these awarenesses, I would have been on a completely different playing field. I would have been able to engage with my team in a connected, leader-driven way, instead of the disconnection, negative-orientation, and lack of compassion I brought instead.  

This experience was the catalyst that drove me to question how my lens determines and contributes to the outcomes of the teams I work with and for.


Has your lens and focus impacted your ability to work on a team effectively? Do you see this with the teams you coach? Has the lens of the EQ Profile helped you to engage differently with the teams you coach?


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*Corrie Weikle is Director of Training at Learning in Action, where she manages the training programs and courses, develops educational resources, as well as assists in business development.


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.

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Posted in: Assessment Tools|Coaching|Emotional Intelligence

Moving from “If” to “How”

May 2, 2018

It was 2:00 am, pitch black but for the twinkling headlamps of my fellow climbers on Mt. Rainier. Crampons on my boots, ice axe in my hand, inexorably tethered to a climbing team of four. I’m scrambling up the aptly named, Disappointment Cleaver, despair creeping into my consciousness. This is where I learned the meaning of “how” commitment.

Though I’d trained hard and felt great on the climb the day before, I was laboring mightily in the higher altitude. (Guide, RMI owner and mountaineer, Peter Whittaker, told me later I wasn’t breathing properly. Ugh!) While we charged past other rope teams, I felt as if I was barely hanging on, I’d never been so completely spent. (What made me think this was a good way to celebrate my 50th birthday?!)

No Matter What

Then, I recalled what the famous mountaineer and our guide, Ed Viesturs had told me the night before our initial ascent. I’d asked him how many times he’d turned back from a peak due to circumstances within his control. His answer: Never. He had never given up on a summit because he was too tired or too hungry or too cold or too scared. Never in 30 years of climbing the world’s highest peaks. Ed’s formidable fortitude inspired me to dig deeper than I could have imagined possible on that ridge, and so I kept placing one boot after the other. I would get up that mountain, no matter what.

“No matter what” thinking generates a powerful mindset shift from “if” to “how.” Nothing about the circumstances change, and instead, we change. When our mindset shifts from “if” to “how,” the possibility of impossibility, the option for failure, is eliminated from consideration. And instead we search for the way we can. 


The “if” mindset is like testing a hypothesis. Hypothesis: I can summit Mt. Rainier. True or false. (It is as if either outcome has an equal likelihood.) Because an “if” mindset allows for a “false” outcome. With a “how” mindset, every way considered assumes success.

The difference between “if” and “how” is a matter of commitment. 

In our over-scheduled, always-accessible, multi-optional lives, we experience “if” commitment all the time. We experience an “if I can,” “if it’s convenient,” “I’ll try,” kind of commitment to goals, people, communities, work, volunteerism and ourselves. I’ll go to that board meeting, “if I can.” I’ll help my friends move, “if they are really organized.” I’ll stop by that get together, “if I have time.” “I’ll try” to hit my fitness goal – no harm in trying. 

These are hedging strategies. With “if” commitments, we keep our options open, we avoid actually failing, we don’t disappoint, we don’t get hurt. The “if” commitment is comfortable, convenient.

And while “if” commitments feel easier, what we don’t realize in the moment is how exhausting they can be over time. We are constantly re-trading our decisions. Should I or shouldn’t I? Who will be upset with me if I don’t? How much effort is enough? Is this good enough? An “if” commitment is a partial, “toe in the water” kind of commitment, and leaves some of the most resourceful parts of ourselves behind.

Now How?

A “how” commitment is energy-efficient. A single decision is made once. Like an on/off switch. All the energy is put into the effort of moving forward on the goal, the relationship, the event, the organization. We are “all in.”

How do we make “how” commitments without becoming over-committed? One possibility: Transform “if” commitments either into a defined “how” commitment or no commitment at all. A defined “how” commitment would involve deciding specifically what we definitely will do, then anything more is gravy. How many times per week will we work out, no matter what? How many nights will we be home for dinner at a specific time, no matter what? How many times per month will we call/visit family, no matter what?

Creating defined “how” commitments or eliminating commitments altogether can be difficult in the beginning because it requires intention, clarity and courageous conversation with the parties involved. Instead of constantly kicking that can down the road and wearing down ourself and our relationships with our “iffy” commitments, we can be following through on our “how” commitments with an efficiency and clarity that dramatically reduces mental, emotional and physical drag and enhances the quality of our life and relationships. We can feel lighter and more aligned with what’s truly important to us.

BTW, I summited Mt. Rainier around 6:30 am that morning, minus a few teammates who started the trek. It was by far the hardest thing I have ever done. And it was life-changing for me because it proved the power of “how.”

What does commitment mean to you? How do you treat commitment with your clients? How do you respond when they don’t follow through on commitments? How do you hold yourself to your own commitments?

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Posted in: Attitude|Emotional Intelligence