A Coaching Power Tool Created by Kombe Temba
(Life Coach, ZAMBIA)
Picture this. Two co-workers are asked to stay on after everyone else has left the office to assist with a project. One declares that it’s unfair and reminds their supervisor that the work is not even part of their job description! The other gladly accepts the assignment hoping to learn something new and is excited to be part of the project.
Why is it that two people can experience the same challenge but respond to it in totally different ways? One co-worker saw the request as a challenge and tried to influence their supervisor’s reaction, while the other saw the same request as an opportunity. It is their perspectives on the situation that determined their respective responses. The perspective we have on a situation has a bearing on how we respond.
Control and trust offer two such perspectives. Trying to control a difficult situation can leave us feeling exhausted from doing all that we can to ensure things go our way. Trust, on the other hand, gives us room to rest when we acknowledge that there is only so much we can do and that the other people and for some a higher power, also have a role to play in the situation.
You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside- Wayne Dyer
According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online control is “the ability or power to make someone or something do what you want or make something happen in the way you want”. In other contexts controlling is described as regulating, commanding, or dominating something or someone.
Control is typically associated with actions, with doing rather than being, and can be directed inward, for example towards our thoughts, or outward by what we say to others.
The quote above by Dr. Wayne Dyer highlights the inward focus of control. We may seek to influence what others do or determine how something will happen, but we cannot control the choices, decisions, and actions that others take. There is no assurance that things will work out the way we want or expect in any given situation. However, by being able to make choices all the time about our thoughts, emotions, and behavior, we have self-control.
Without trust, there can be no peace of mind. The four essential trusts – Trust in Self, Trust in God, Trust in Others, and Trust in Life – are like oxygen – Iyanla Vanzant (Vanzant, 2015:xii)
The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online defines trust as “a strong belief in the honesty, goodness of someone or something”. Trust has elements of confidence, hope, dependence, and faith.
Although trust is also a verb, it is usually experienced as a state of mind or a state of being rather than an action. However, the process of trusting is active as opposed to passive because we invest our trust in someone or something.
The quote above by Iyanla Vanzant brings out the aspect of who or what we trust as well as the necessity to trust. It also raises some interesting questions:
- Who do you trust?
- What do you trust them with?
- How much do you trust them?
- What do you gain or lose from trusting them?
- Who do you trust the most?
- Who does your trust the least?
- Where is your trust anchored?
- Is the trust necessary?
If we cannot control other people and situations around us, what else can we do? Well, we can choose to trust that things will work out for our good even if they do not turn out exactly the way we want. This speaks to trusting ourselves to be able to handle whatever happens; trusting others to play their role in the process; trusting that the process will unfold as it is supposed to and; trusting in a higher power to do their part (what we cannot do with our efforts).
Trust frees us from constantly worrying about what else we can do and creates room for a sense of peace. We can try to control everyone and everything outside of us or trust that things will work out and that we are capable of handling whatever outcome we get.
We may ask if this is realistic. Can we switch perspectives just like that? Let’s consider a real-life example.
As a recovering perfectionist, control was my tool of choice. I pursued perfection in everything– from how straight I parked my car in a parking slot to how accurately I arranged my cutlery at a dinner party, and I fought to control all my circumstances so that things turned out the way I had planned. Everything had to be done in a certain way…my way! The more aggressively I pursued perfection the more I split my energy between enforcing high expectations on myself and also on those around me, at home, and at work.
Eventually, I got so exhausted that I burned out and had to just stop and be still. It was only when I became still that I was able to see that my pursuit of perfection was not serving me. This approach was not working for me! I realized that I was chasing a target that would never stop moving and expecting everybody else to not only chase the same target but to also chase it the way I wanted them to.
I could have just changed my target by lowering my unrealistically high standards to mediocre ones and moved forward, but the exhaustion prompted me to figure out why I needed to be in control in the first place. The more questions I asked myself and explored what was behind the need to be in control, the closer I got to the concept of trust.
When we revisit the question posed earlier about the process of switching perspectives, we can see that stopping and being still, giving myself space to ask and listen for my answers was a game-changer.
Meet Kate. She has been preparing for this client presentation for weeks. Her director has diligently reminded her that the company is depending on her to sell their new product line to this potential client through the presentation. Despite having prepared, rehearsed, researched the client, and checked the accuracy of all the data and statistics she will be presenting, she is still uneasy and nervous about tomorrow. She has brought up two options but doesn’t know which one to take:
- Spend the rest of her day covering every plausible eventuality, for example making sure the boardroom projector is working, rehearsing her answers to potential questions, or calling all her technical support staff to remind them of the time the presentation is taking place.
- Get a good night’s sleep knowing that she has done her best and that she is technically and experientially equipped to handle any questions that the client might raise.
Let us assume Kate is your client and has brought this issue to the coaching session, she wants to figure out what to do by the end of the session and before her presentation tomorrow.
A good starting point for the coach is to ask from a place of curiosity and not with presuppositions. Using the explanations of control and trust discussed above, we can approach the session from a perspective of trust in the client’s ability to get to their truth and in the structure of a session, rather than one of trying to find the solution for the client or control the session outcome. The other important consideration is to give the client enough time and space to think, reflect, and listen for their answers.
From the two options Kate has, we can see that A is about control and focuses on what Kate can do to ensure that the presentation goes as planned, while option B is about trusting in herself and the process. The options represent two different ways of looking at the same situation. We can share this as an observation with Kate and ask her what she thinks or feels about it.
We can also ask her questions that will help her explore what thoughts, beliefs, values, and feelings are behind the two options, and see what comes up from there. Examples include:
- What is giving rise to these two options?
- What’s important about choosing between these two particular options?
- What would be an ideal outcome for you?
- What would you like to feel when the presentation is over?
- What could happen to you if you go with option A?
- What could happen to you if you go with option B?
- What could you do if the presentation doesn’t go as planned?
- What is within your control here?
- What role are you playing in the entire process?
- What would a third option look like?
- How do these options align with your values?
- What is coming up for you?
- What are you learning about yourself?
Experiences like mine and the situation Kate found herself in at work can leave us feeling stuck, frustrated, stressed, and even hopeless. However, stopping, being still, and answering questions that help us consider a more empowering perspective than the one we see in front of us at that moment, can open us up to thoughts, feelings, and actions that can bring peace and an opportunity to make choices that will serve us better.
When we find ourselves in a situation or position where we are stuck and unsure of what to do next, it can be useful to ask if we are in control or trust mode then consider whether it is empowering or dis-empowering us.
Other questions we can ask are:
- Where do my control end and trust begin?
- Why do I want to control this situation?
- What is important to me about being in control?
- What do I lose or gain if I am not in control?
- What will happen if I am not in control?
- Why trust?
- Who/what do I trust?
- What is the basis of my trust?
- Where is my trust anchored?
Iyanla Vanzant (2015). Trust : Mastering the four essential trusts. Carlsbad, California: Hay House.