A Coaching Power Tool Created by Qin Xue
(Transformational Coach, CHINA)
Often we hear such voices:
I feel bored, something is empty inside.
I’m sick of office politics and kissing up.
I can’t change a thing.
I feel frustrated.
I feel so disappointed. The whole team is not performing.
I’m stressed out. Everything is a last minute thing.
I’m angry. I’m disappointed, but I’m scared and cannot afford to lose my job.
We hear such voices at different times and places in our life, or the voices just come out their own way from our own minds. While dreaming about being the god of earth, by feeding our unlimited needs and desires and indulging in ephemeral stimulations and evanescent possessions, many of us are creating more barren land in our hearts as we can hardly get ‘enough’, neither enough time, space, property, nor enough confidence or trust, to name a few. We have been making all efforts to be ‘successful’ and ‘happy’, but so often success and happiness seem staying away from us afar, regardless of the material prosperity resulting from the industrialization and e-economy, which seemingly provide the illusion of unlimited production and hence unlimited consumption. Another voice is coming out to ask: what are we really busy with?
What are we really busy with?
This is a good question to ponder.
Society praises those who do, so we are programmed to pack our time with all sorts of activities, planned and unplanned. When we are at school or at work, we learn and try to ‘do more with less’. When we could be relaxing and at leisure, we fill the space with computer games, films and mobile phones. The internet seems to add so many more choices! And, we are becoming ‘human doers’ rather than ‘human beings’. But, are we enjoying doing more than being? Or, are we more pleased with having than doing?
Being or Having?
In To Have or To Be, a 1976 book by social psychologist Erich Fromm, ‘having’ and ‘being’ are perceived as two modes of existence inherent in our nature. They are two conflicting aims, the desire to possess and the desire to experience and to grow, both present in us. The desire to possess is not only aimed at material things, but also at power, money, and other people. The desire to experience and to grow involves satisfying human needs by mutual sharing and loving. The two aims lead to modes that can be observed in our daily life.
In conversing, people in the ‘having’ mode think of their knowledge as property. For them, losing in a conversation means impoverishment. Thus, the discussion is destined to be unproductive because each of the interlocutors is concerned with protecting himself from exposure to the other’s opinions while, at the same time, trying to prove his point. In contrast, people in the ‘being’ mode are open to a productive dialog without the fear of losing part of their identity. Instead, they focus on mutual spiritual and intellectual exchange.
Our modern society is rooted in the ‘having’ mode, which seems like a new ‘religion’. In this religion, people serve the economy, and the objects of worship are work, property, and power. We become what we have.
Being, Having or Doing?
Based on Fromm’s dual model, Yaakov Rand (1993) adds a third mode of existence that he calls ‘Doing’. Rand confirms that people with the ‘doing’ mode obtain satisfaction from the actual process of doing. ‘Doing’ people divert a massive amount of inner energy into the act of doing, and into the nurturing of the ability to attain goals, motivated by a feeling of indispensability and creativity. According to Rand, all three modes exist concurrently in each individual’s personality, but only one mode generally is dominant.
The main difference between the three modes of existence lies in the direction in which an individual invests his energy. Let’s take a look at the learning process, as one example, to understand how these three modes of existence are expressed.
For the person dominated by the ‘Doing’ mode, the main aim of learning is to turn the acquired knowledge into a tool, by means of which he can do things in a better and more efficient way, so that he can accomplish his tasks more effectively.
The prime aim of learning for the person dominated by the ‘Having’ mode is to acquire knowledge and control it, just as he controls his material possessions, and uses it as an instrument for increasing his ability to control others, or to acquire possessions for himself.
The principal aim of learning for the person dominated by the ‘Being’ mode is the acquisition of knowledge for the sake of enriching his inner self as much as possible, so that he can attain a higher level and more varied knowledge.
By and large, doing, having and being are different modes of existence, or three interrelated facets of life. One can know who he is by looking at what he has. One can actualize himself through properly rewarded work. And one can facilitate personal growth and development by finding and creating a meaningful life. Hence, it’s not surprising that in our modern consumer society, objects (having) seem to be an important source of meaning with which we construct (doing) our lives (being).
Interrelationships among Doing, Having and Being
Doing, having and being are the basic states of our existence. These states are relevant to the question of how we define who we are. The relationships among doing, having, and being have been extensively explored by existential psychologist and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who suggests in his major work Being and Nothingness, that doing is merely a transitional state, or a manifestation of the more fundamental desires to have, or to be. We learn, define, and remind ourselves of who we are by our possessions.
Objects in our possession literally can extend self, as when a tool allows us to do things of which we would otherwise be incapable. Possessions also can symbolically extend self, as when a uniform or trophy allows us to convince ourselves, and perhaps others, that we can be a different person than we would be without them. Thus, having possessions can contribute to our capabilities for doing and being.
Fromm instead advocates being as the preeminent form of existence. The outcome of practicing the being mode of existence is to realize our own identity without the threat of losing it, a threat that is inherent in the having mode, for which he asks ‘If I am what I have, and if what I have is lost, who then am I?’
Anyhow, our accumulation of possessions provides a sense of past, and tells us who we are, where we have come from, and perhaps where we are going. As our understanding of who we are changes over our lifetime, our identity embodied within our possessions changes too, and so does our level of desire for acquiring possessions. A finding supported by a number of studies shows that for young people, their favorite possessions reflect their talents, abilities and future aspirations, and during middle adulthood, possessions serve as signs of accomplishments, while older people value possessions for the experiences for which they remind them.
The increased emphasis on self and identity is the peculiarity and the outcome of our consumer society. A high materialistic value orientation is a likely answer to the question of ‘who I am’. At the same time, such recognition of personal identification through what I consume, what I own, and what I control, at the expense of experiences, has its price. This price might be loneliness, fewer relationships, and lower feelings of subjective well being.
Since doing, having and being are inherent in our nature, inalienable from our wholeness, how should we live and dance with them blissfully?
The International Coach Federation (ICF) defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. Coaches honor the client as the expert in his or her life, and work with the belief that every client is creative, resourceful and whole. Standing on this foundation, being, having and doing modes can serve as a good coaching tool for personal, professional and organizational development.
Mary (name changed for confidentiality), based in Europe, has been working more than ten years for her company. She was promoted to be the head of one business function three years ago. With business expansion in Asia, some new, project-based members have been recruited in the target countries. Each team member works independently to serve the needs of the clients through collaborations with other colleagues and business partners in North America, Europe and Asia. The whole team managed by Mary works virtually, from different offices in different locations.
Mary is a very hard-working manager. She has regular meetings with the top management, joins cross functional meetings with other business heads, hosts biweekly team conference calls, and sets up biweekly calls with each of her 10 direct reports. Even though the function of her team is of supportive service, she is very active in initiating various competitions among her team members to boost morale, and help the company to reach the sales targets, not to mention her other business meetings and calls with clients she leads. To ensure service quality, and supported by team members, she has guided the development of several new workbooks to regulate working processes and to standardize email communications with clients.
Mary shows strong confidence in her rich experience in the industry, her thorough knowledge and understanding of the company, and her good grasp of the essence of the associated tasks. With assiduity, she devotes herself to creating a strongly performing team. But in spite of all the seemingly good results, Mary is feeling more and more frustrated with Jane (name changed for confidentiality), one of her direct reports in Asia. Mary feels Jane is difficult to manage, and can hardly be motivated to join in any team activities. In the past three months, Jane hasn’t attended any biweekly team conference calls. And although Jane shows great competence in her job roles by delivering good results, and while almost all business partners and other colleagues like working with Jane, Mary feels a strong urge to change the situation.
Sandy (name changed for confidentiality) joined Mary’s team in Asia as a new recruit two years ago. Before that she had four years working experience in a company in a different industry. She has been struggling for months on whether to quit her current job.
Sandy has a ‘keep learning’ attitude and is very easy to work with. She supports almost everything which comes her way, no matter what. But after getting more knowledge of the industry and more experience in the company, her primary passion, enthusiasm and fire are dying out. She doesn’t feel the current job has any meaning to her. She feels the team calls provide nothing, but merely a time for chit-chat; the workbooks are nice, but not very useful, and her extra efforts in other projects, encouraged by Mary for team building and her own career development, are not as rewarding as she expected. Her future appears ‘blank’ to her.
Sandy wants to stop working for a year to find her lost self. But no job brings no income. She cannot run the risk of having no money to pay the rental for a place to stay, not to mention other necessities for daily life. She is now still working as usual. And while no other colleagues know her inner struggle, she is eager to walk out of the dilemma.
It’s very interesting that the two cases happen at the same time within the same team. Mary takes all initiatives and invests her energy in everything that she can think of to pull the team together, whether to accomplish the goals of the company or to take the subordinates development into consideration. Sandy looks very dedicated and is a good team player, but an undercurrent of bewilderment runs deep in her. Jane appears to be going her own way regardless of Mary’s endeavors, which seems the cause of Mary’s frustration.
Some sample questions to Mary:
- In what ways do all your efforts serve you as a manager?
- In what ways do all your efforts serve you as a person?
- How do all your efforts serve your team?
- How do all your efforts serve your team members as individual persons?
- How do you feel when Jane ignores the existing rules or your expectations?
- What could you do differently to have Jane become more participative?
It appears that Mary’s ‘doing’ is serving her most of the time, but where she really invests her energy is yet to be discovered. Mary’s answers to the questions should shed some light on her current mode of existence, as well as on her openness and willingness to see things from different perspectives. It’s totally acceptable whether Mary enjoys the ‘having’ mode to manage the team by controlling, or whether she chooses to transform into the ‘being’ mode to lead the team by influencing. Her decision is partially dependent on the corporate culture and socioeconomic structure in which she lives, because few people have the courage to be an outsider or an outcast of an established domain. Once Mary’s choice is made, the key to resolve her frustration with Jane will emerge from the shadows.
Some sample questions to Sandy:
- What are the positive feelings you have for your current job?
- How do you feel once you get a dream job?
- What does a dream job mean to you?
- What are the qualifications and talents you have to realize this dream job?
- What are the areas you feel you need to improve to realize this dream job?
- How are you able to bridge the gaps to get yourself this dream job?
Sandy seems to be anchoring her energy in ‘being’ as she weighs ‘meaning’, yet it doesn’t appear absolute. Her answers to the questions should reveal her true aspirations, and bring out her current dominant mode of existence. And, the questions on how she can realize her dream job offer Sandy the space to consider the ways to the destination for which she yearns. It doesn’t matter whether Sandy is after ‘being’, ‘having’, or ‘doing’, as long as she finds out her energy spot, she will be able to walk out of the darkness into the light.
Everything in life will continue to evolve, as will Mary and Sandy’s modes of existence. And even though the mode of being is the most optimal state as it’s related to independence, freedom, and it means to renew oneself, to grow, to flow out, to give, to love, to unite with others, to transcend the prison of one’s isolated ego, we need to take care of our biological desire for survival from time to time. The way to being is penetration through the surface and insight into reality.
‘Know Thyself’ is one of the Delphic maxims inscribed in the pronaos of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The basic three modes of existence, being, having and doing, form a tool that we can utilize on our continuous journey of self-discovery and self-development.
- What are the characteristics of the modes of being, having and doing?
- How can I tell my dominant mode of existence?
- How can I as a coach help my client to find his/her dominant mode of existence?
- How important is it for a coach to help the client to shift from one mode to another?
- What are the positive energies that the mode of being can radiate?
- “Just when I discovered the meaning of life, they changed it.”
- What does this quote by George Carlin mean to you?
Some people say ‘Know Thyself’ is the first step to life change. Jean-Paul Sartre says:
We do not know what we want and yet we are responsible for what we are – that is the fact.’ What would you say?
Erich Fromm, To have or to be (2008), Continuum , pp.71-87
Russell W. Belk, Possessions and the Extended Self, Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Sep., 1988), pp. 139-168
Book review by Dinara Urazova, To Have or to Be by Erich Fromm
Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, translated by Hazel E. Barnes
Survey report by Erik H. Cohen, Rachel Sagee et Rivka Reichenberg, Being, Having and Doing Modes of Existence: Confirmation and Reduction of a New Scale Based on a Study among Israeli Female Teachers, Student-Teachers and Counselors, http://bms.revues.org/851
International Coaching Federation