A Coaching Power Tool Created by Heather Pierce
(Life Coach, UNITED STATES)
The world spins, but not around you! Jasper Comstock
You’re so vain. You probably think this song is about you. Carly Simon
When faced with conflicts with others, we tend to focus on our own side of the issue. We are “self centered” because our own perspective is the only one we always have access to. When looking at a situation from our own perspective only, we may see our boss as being demanding, our spouse as not being adventurous, the driver that cut us off as being rude. And this makes sense, because we only know our own intentions and feelings at the time. However, even though we are the center of our own worlds, we are not the center of other people’s worlds. Our “demanding” boss may not realize that the amount of work placed on us is too much. Our spouse may not want to go on a ski trip because he suffered an injury while skiing as a child and is scared to try again. The rude driver who cut us off may be driving a sick child to the doctor and is rushing through traffic.
Clients often get stuck in a situation because they assume that the other person in a conflict has bad intentions or is
When asked why someone might have acted a certain way in a situation, they might say it is just because of the type of person someone is – mean, vindictive, selfish, demanding, etc. As coaches, we can encourage clients to look beyond themselves to realize that how the other person is behaving might not be intended to hurt us, and in fact, probably has nothing to do with us at all.
In his powerful book “The Four Agreements”, Don Miguel Ruiz deals directly with personal importance in his second agreement: Don’t take anything personally. According to Ruiz, Nothing other people do is because of you. How people act towards you is a function of their own experiences and how they see the world. If we can learn not to take things personally, we are not impacted by the reactions of others.
Rebecca was bored in her job. After many years of being at the same company and working with the same manager, she wanted some new challenges. Rebecca was highly educated, and felt overqualified for the projects she was assigned to by her manager. Although she was labeled as the Project Manager, her manager didn’t give her the client contact she wanted, choosing to handle most of the direct interactions with the clients herself. Her manager was responsible for selling new projects, and even though the manager had told Rebecca that she would try to get new and different kinds of projects for her to work on, that didn’t happen. Rebecca was frustrated with her manager, and considered finding a new job.
When discussing this situation with her coach, Rebecca talked a lot about how her manager must not trust her. Rebecca felt that the manager’s decision to handle client interactions and continue to sell the same types of projects must be related to her lack of confidence in Rebecca’s skills. During coaching sessions, Rebecca’s coach, Kristen, asked Rebecca to try to look at the situation from the manager’s perspective. Might there be other reasons, not related to Rebecca, for the manager’s actions? Rebecca was able to acknowledge that her manager was under a lot of pressure to sell and to make sure that clients were satisfied. Her job and compensation depended on it. Although the manager might have wanted to get new and different types of projects for Rebecca to work on, she might choose to sell the same kinds of projects because she had experience doing so, and wanted to sell as much as she could as easily as she could. Also, Rebecca’s manager had been used to working alone, and may just not be good at handing over the reins to someone else. The manager’s decision to handle client interactions was likely more related to her desire to be in control of the situation than to her mistrust of Rebecca.
Understanding that the manager’s behavior wasn’t about her allowed Rebecca to shift her perspective of the situation. Instead of choosing to be a victim in the situation, Rebecca realized that she would have to look for other ways to achieve her career goals. She liked her manager and the company, and decided not to leave. Instead, she started looking for new projects on her own, which took some of the stress off of her manager and allowed Rebecca to reach her goals.
As coaches, we can support our clients in looking beyond themselves. First, they can acknowledge that others are acting based on their own experiences and their own lenses through which they see the world. Sometimes, we can work with clients to help them imagine alternatives for other people’s behavior that are outside of their interactions with us.
When a client is talking about something that another person said or did that upset them, or was not what the client wanted, the coach can help shift the focus from self to other. With some clients, it may only take a simple reminder, perhaps just for the coach to say What people do is about them, not us.
However, this can be very challenging to understand. Even when someone says something that directly relates to you, it is not about you. For example, if someone tells you that you are ugly, it is not about you, it is about them. You may not fit their ideal of beauty, but that does not mean that you are ugly. For some clients, it is helpful to ask them to think about what might be going on with the other person that would be the cause of that person’s behaviors or beliefs. The coach may want to try a Role Play exercise, in which the client plays the role of the other person in the situation, imagining how that person might explain his/her actions.
When possible, in resolving the conflict, our clients can ask the other person to explain their point of view. If one can try to view the situation through the other person’s eyes for a moment, it may be possible to resolve the issue in a way that works for both parties. When we step out of ourselves to see what others see, a new world can open up.
Questions to ask:
- Can you imagine a reason that person might choose that behavior that isn’t related to you?
- What might be going on in that person’s life that might make them act that way?
- What would happen if you tried to look at the problem from the other person’s perspective?
Understanding Does Not Mean Agreeing
We cannot always know what the underlying thought or drive is behind someone else’s words or actions. Although we can speculate, we don’t know for sure. And when we ask clients to think of the possible reasons for someone’s behavior, we don’t need to ask them to believe that the other person is “right”. For example, a client is upset with her father for offering the position of President of the family business to her brother. She thinks at first that this choice means that her father doesn’t love her as much as he loves her brother. Through coaching, she acknowledges that her father grew up in a time where it wasn’t as acceptable for women to run businesses, and he may have chosen her brother for the role due to this bias. Understanding why her father made the choice he did can help her move on. She doesn’t have to agree with his belief that women aren’t effective leaders – she merely has to understand that it is his belief that drove his decision, and that it didn’t have anything to do with her.
Creating Empathy and Compassion
A Self-only point of view can result in negative feelings about others. When we can acknowledge that others are acting from their own experiences, we can move from anger or displeasure about the way they are treating us to a place of empathy and compassion for their situation. Even more, we can forgive those who have hurt us, knowing that their behavior didn’t have anything to do with us in the first place.
- Are there any examples of a time in your life when you took things too personally?
- Have you ever found out the underlying reason behind someone’s word/actions and found that they were quite different than what you imagined?
- Can you remember a time when you reacted to someone (or treated them in a hurtful way) based on something else that was going on in your life at the time?
- Have you ever had a client who was hurt by someone who might have benefited from understanding things from the other person’s point of view?