A Coaching Power Tool created by Rajanikanth Chandrasekar
(Executive Coach, INDIA)
It’s not the problem that causes our suffering; it’s our thinking about the problem Byron Katie
For the purpose of this tool, ‘fact’ is referring to the actual event that we observe or hear. For e.g. There is a dog behind you. The word ‘story’ is used to convey what you tell about this observed fact to yourself. For e.g. ‘ Dogs are scary. This dog is going to bite me. I better run etc.’
Mahesh works in a leading telecom company for the last 10 years. He used to work in the Sales department for eight years before moving into ‘L&D’ department to design and deliver training programs on Sales to the younger generation. He has been an excellent performer and is used to getting promotions fairly regularly. Last promotion made him AVP of L&D which he took up with lots of excitement and has been doing a good work. Around that time, there has been a change in the management team of the company. He missed the excitement of Sales, especially the quick and direct feedbacks one gets in that profile, nevertheless enjoyed shaping up new generation of sales team. He was expecting a promotion this year to become a VP and got terribly disappointed when he was not considered for that. He felt that all his hard work has gone waste. He felt the new management team is not valuing the experience of senior people in the organization and suspected their capability and generally lost the motivation. His lack of motivation started reflecting in his job Most of the time, our actions are based on an underlying feeling.
Typically, we observe or think or hear a fact and then we have a feeling/emotion about what we observed or heard and act based on that feeling. It has also been well established that most of the time, the emotions ‘make us act’ rather than ‘we act’ based on the emotion, a topic normally discussed as ‘reacting’ vs ‘responding’. A lot of personality development literature stresses on the benefit of responding over reacting.
But when probed further, an interesting area to analyze would be ‘what caused the feeling/emotion’. Again, all of us are aware that for the same stimulus, some people tend to react explosively than others. For example some people listen to critical feedback without getting affected while some throw tantrums for a mere suggestion. Based on extensive research, Kerry Patterson and his team 1, suggest that
Just after we observe what others do and just before we feel some emotion about it, we tell ourselves a story.
That is, we add meaning to the action we observed, we may be adding a motive for the action and a judgment (good or bad). And then based on these thoughts or stories, our body responds with an emotion. The authors call this model as ‘Path to Action’
For example, in the case of Mohan, the fact is he did not get a promotion. And the thought that the new management does not value his experience and is not a capable team etc are the stories that he told.
While this storytelling could be an identifiable process in some cases, typically it happens blindingly fast, that we don’t even know that we are doing it. But the biggest application of this analysis is the idea that it is ‘we who tell this story’ and we could ‘choose’ a different story for the same fact. Coaching Application Many times, Coaches encounter Client with strong feelings of anger, frustration, disappointment etc. In such instances it may be useful thing to analyze the events with the idea of separating facts from the stories. The Questions that could help in this analysis are
- 1. What actually happened?
a. As a response the Client may again and again come back to the story and feelings part, but the coach could guide them to go back to the ‘Fact’ i.e. the observed event
- 2. What is the ‘Story’?
a. Here the Client could be guided to analyze what he/she told themselves based on the observed event
- 3. How do you feel when you tell yourself that story?
This process could help Client to understand the fact that his/her thoughts play a role in forming his emotions. It could be a useful next step, to explore the other possible stories that the Client could tell based on the same observed fact and to explore the feelings/emotions based on these stories. One of the biggest benefits about this process is it puts things in perspective and guides Client to tell better stories and hence have a different feeling or emotion. As we have discussed before, different emotions/ feelings leads to different actions and potentially better actions.
In the case of Mohan, the analysis led to clarity on what is a fact and what is a story. The thought that the new management team is incapable and the thought that they do not value the experience of senior people etc., are ‘his stories’. When probed whether these stories are helping him in achieving his goal, Mohan realized that these stories are being counter productive. When he chose to change his stories it led to a different kind of action and follow-up. He scheduled meetings with the management to understand his capabilities vis-à-vis management expectations. Mohan and his management team agreed that the best use of Mohan for the company is in Sales and Mohan requested them to get him back into Sales profile.
‘Crucial Conversations – Tools for talking when stakes are high’ by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Greeny, Ron Mcmillan and Al Switzler
‘Loving what is’ by Byron Katie with Stephen Micthell.