A Coaching Power Tool By Océane Staib Evin, Executive Coach, IRELAND
In doing so, I have realized that the sense of being and feeling alone may have been impacted by Covid but is in fact hugely influenced by our education, the culture we have been brought up in, our habits, limiting beliefs, and many other aspects.
Indeed, as individualistic cultures of Western Europe and North America prise autonomy, independence, self-sufficiency, and uniqueness, people tend to be self-reliant and emphasize standing out and being unique. “I think, therefore I am” from Rene Descartes resonates in the ears of many “Westerners” where people tend to describe themselves using personal characteristics “I am analytical, sarcastic, athletic…”. This “identity” and “self-reliance” lead many to find themselves “stuck” in challenges in which they feel alone. They bear all the responsibility on their shoulder and do not see how to move forward. What would the same individual, brought up in a collectivist culture do? How would one who describes and identifies himself though others “I am a good partner” “I am a good leader”, through the lens of his/her partner or team, have approached the same difficulty?
How can seeing the same challenge from a perspective in which you are not alone, a perspective from which you do not focus solely on the issue at hand, and look at how the relationships you have or may build can help you move forward? How can, simply asking for help in some cases, make you move forward and find the answers?
I have, throughout my experience as a leader, and more recently as a coach, been fascinated by the extent to which people can lock themselves in front of a challenge, stay stuck in a place, “alone”, a place in which their minds can no longer think out of the box or move and how a simple change of perspective, of approach, looking at and taking into consideration the people involved or around can be a game-changer. It can be a game-changer in front of a specific challenge but more importantly a game-changer in their daily personal and professional lives.
Alone vs. Together Explanation:
ALONE: Definition: Alone is an adjective that describes someone or something as being in isolation. Not involving or including anyone or anything else, separate from other people or things.
Brené Brown describes in her book “Dare to Lead”, how the “I can go it alone” attitude is a key myth surrounding vulnerability. Indeed, people think they do not need to be vulnerable as they can proceed alone and do not need anyone’s help. She clearly explains that despite how one may feel about achieving alone, this goes against everything known about human neurobiology we, humans, are not wired to be alone, manage everything alone. As social species, we are hardwired for connection, and in the absence and authentic connection, we suffer. She references the work of Neuroscience researcher John Cacioppo, who dedicated his career to understanding loneliness and demonstrates how we do not derive strength alone but rather from our ability to plan, communicate and work together.
Impacts of being “alone” are also perceptible through the incredibly long-running Bucharest Early Intervention Project (BEIP) study. The BEIP studied the impact on the neurological and emotional development of Romanian Orphans who had been completely deprived of Human Contact un the Caucescu regime. They have followed groups of orphans over the years and observed the long-term impact of isolation in the first years of the life of these orphans alongside the progress made by children who could establish relationships with their caregivers. More recently they enriched their analysis by studying children of migrants who had been separated from their parents at US borders some of which landed in shelters where they experienced stress with minimal social and cognitive behavior. BEIP has shown that children reared in very stark institutional settings, with severe social deprivation and neglect, are at higher risk for cognitive problems, depression, anxiety, disruptive behavior, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Another UK study based on scans of young adults, who were adopted into UK families from orphanages under the Caucescu regime, reveals that these adults have smaller brains, concludes that severe deprivation in early childhood early life Impacts the development of the brain.
TOGETHER: Definition: Together is an adverb indicating when two or more people or things are with each other, assembled in a group, or united in goals. Together can also mean “at the same time.” If you sing soprano in a choir, you sing together with the other sopranos in a song.
TEAM and its known acronym: Together Each Achieve More or “Stronger Together” has been used and reused, repeated, and said yet, when one faces difficulty at work or in life, a very natural tendency to try to solve alone, even when stuck, remains. This seems linked to our profound individualistic cultures.
In Africa and Asia, people are much less individualistic and much more interdependent. Consider the African philosophy of “ubuntu”, Ubuntu is a concept according to which your sense of self is shaped by your relationships with other people. It’s a way of living that begins with the premise that “I am only because we are”; “I am because you are” or “ I am human because I belong, I participate. I share.” vs. the “I think therefore I am” of Descartes.
South African Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote in 2004: “A person is a person through other persons. None of us comes into the world fully formed. We would not know how to think, walk, speak, or behave as human beings unless we learned it from other human beings. We need other human beings to be human. “ In practice, according to ubuntu, the common bonds within a group are more important than any individual arguments and divisions within it. “People will debate, people, will disagree; it’s not like there are no tensions,” said the Kenyan Literary Scholar, JamesOgude. “It is about coming together and building a consensus around what affects the community. And once you have debated, then it is understood what is best for the community, and then you have to buy into that.”
According to Ubuntu, there exists a common bond between us all and it is through this bond, through our interaction with our fellow human beings, that we discover our own human qualities. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation.
Whilst starting my coaching journey, I strongly believed that each of us held full responsibility in deciding at every step to “be alone or part of a bigger group, tribe”, “act alone or ask for help”, approach every step of life, and work alone or not. I was under the assumption that such a decision could easily be made every step of the way depending on our needs and desires.
Throughout my coaching journey, self-reflection, and a better understanding of others, I have come to the realization that in many cases, if not most, the decision of being or acting alone is far more complicated than I had imagined and is in fact highly influenced by the culture we live in, the education we have had, the environment we are in and, of course, how we feel vs the situation at hand (i.e: shameful/confident, etc). In most cases, the impact of the individualistic cultures we have been brought up in has a huge effect on our unconscious self and may lead us to desperately try to achieve things alone and value self-achievement, too often, forgetting the incredible added value, strength, and importance of the group, the team, the peers… the others.
As a sociable and extraverted person, nourished by being part of and/or building strong teams my coaching journey allowed me to untap an important underlying belief I had around the decision making process and realize that despite my attention to teamwork and social environment, I had, too many times, faced difficulties, challenges or projects alone. The awareness of how anchored and deeply influenced a decision to act alone can be has allowed me to change perspective, approach, and better support others in facing their own challenges, difficulties and move beyond the possible sensation of being stuck. Every time I have faced a challenge in which I felt stuck since I have sat back and thought through all actions I could take, involving my close or more distant network to move forward. The power of changing perspective from “being/thinking/acting alone” to taking into account the people and environment around me to support me moving forward has proven to be immense; not only in allowing me to return into action when stuck but more importantly to broaden my vision and understanding of the situation at hand and face it in a much more paused and complete way. Lastly, the COVID 19 pandemic we have all been going through has had an immense impact on people being and feeling alone in life, at work, and in most situations,s they have had to face. The coffee machine chat is no longer here to help individuals share their recent concerns and gather ideas to start building a solution and who would think to set up a virtual call to simply share and discuss random concerns running through our minds. All people I have discussed within carrying out cultural diagnostic have expressed the incredible Impact this has had on them. Not being able to share topics but also not receiving that simple and natural tap on the back as recognition for good work. These small moments that make us feel part of a group, a team, a family, recognized for our efforts and supported through difficulties have vanished away with the virtual world. This has, in my opinion, re-enforced the importance of being attentive to clients expressing this feeling of being/feeling alone to help them reframe their perspective, see what kind of support system they have or can activate to “feel and be part of”; to “feel and be supported”.
Working Together Towards Shared Goal Application for Coaches:
Whether in the professional or personal arena, People seek for a coach to grow their soft skills, be better leaders; move forward in their lives, in a specific situation; or face a challenging situation in which they feel stuck.
In supporting clients to move forward, helping the client reframe their perspective to one in which they are less self-reliant and can build further understanding, strength, and actions through others can be very powerful. At work, self-reliance pushes many leaders to think that they will achieve more by knowing more, doing more, jumping in problems to solve them, etc This self-reliance leads them to continue to try and solve challenges alone even when stuck, out of ideas, or simply forego the immense positive impact sharing or reflecting on the issue with Superiors, Peers teams can have. As shared earlier, Covid 19 has also had an immense impact on how people may feel and be alone in the work environment now, and being attentive to this when listening to clients can be a key turning point in helping them reframe their perspective and see how they can change this feeling of state. Beyond coaching, for many, sharing the challenge with friends, or simply seeking advice can be a game-changer not only in moving forward but more importantly in feeling less lonely, part of something bigger, a tribe.
Questions Coach Can Ask to Help Client Reframe Perspective:
- How do you feel facing this challenge?
- What support system do you have?
- What makes you feel lonely / alone?
- What could help you feel more supported?
- Anyone can support you in this process?
- Is there anyone you feel sharing this with?
- How could sharing this with others help you?
- How could getting other people’s insights to help you?
- How would it make you feel to share with others/ get insights from others?
Once the client has reframed their perspective with a desire to seek support from outside or simply share their situation with others you can move into a solid action plan in which the SMART process will be key in ensuring the client does actually act upon his realization and awareness.
In the few clients, I have had the chance to support so far feeling alone or addressing a situation alone was generally not the key outcome to address but human relationships and interactions have always come up as very important outcomes within the second or third session. Whatever we face, other individuals are always part of the equation and gaining awareness on how our relationship with others can impact the situation always comes in at one stage.
The Covid 19 Pandemic has made us all face a new reality in which every person has been, felt, and acted more “alone” often forgetting the power of simply being, thinking, acting with others. Going through my coaching journey during these unprecedented times has made me particularly sensitive to how people have adapted to this new “virtual” world in their personal and professional lives.
Individualistic cultures and behaviors, Kendra Cherry, Reviewed by Amy Morin, LCSW
Dare to Lead Brené Brown
Vertical Development in the Workplace Peter Bluckert
Gestalt Coaching, Peter Bluckert, Definitions from the Oxford Dictionary and Wikipedia.
Study of children in Romanian orphanages tells a cautionary tale about family separation, by Children's Hospital Boston
Severe childhood deprivation reduces brain size, study finds, Nicola Davis
I Am Because We Are: The African Philosophy of Ubuntu, by Steve Paulson