A Coaching Power Tool created by Shen Gullery
(Diversity Coach, SINGAPORE)
Allowing and forcing are not difficult concepts. On the first glance, the idea of allowing appears to be more attractive. It’s more agreeable and more natural to accept, permit, or just let happen. Forcing, on the other hand, sounds like imposing and pressing. It implies a break from a natural course.
However, if we take one step further from the most obvious definition of allowing and forcing, the sentiment may change to the opposite. Will you allow yourself to take a break while everybody else is working diligently? Will you accept the slow pace of your progress or just let your child find its own way of developing a new skill without feeling the urge to do something about it? When it comes to what allowing and forcing implies in actual practice, most of us may feel uneasy with allowing, simply because it feels passive, indecisive and even weak. Forcing, in practice, takes on a positive tone, as being determined, committed and disciplined.
Allowing and forcing are both attitudes and actions at the same time. In what circumstance do choosing one attitude and its corresponding action turn out to be more beneficial than the other? What implications do our choice have?
Let’s start by asking ourselves some questions. From a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being very low and 10 very high:
- How often do you feel you can completely accept people, things and situations the way they are, without feeling an urge to exercise some influence?
- How often do you feel comfortable of letting things unfold rather than pushing things in certain directions?
- How often do you accept the way things turn out, without being too attached to how they get there?
The answer to the first question shows our inclination in accepting things the way they are. Allowing in this aspect does not mean a fatalistic attitude, but rather a suspension of judgment and embracing the imperfect reality. The benefits of assuming an allowing attitude towards the state of things are two fold.
On the one hand, by allowing people and things to be the way they are, we create a space for change and growth from intrinsic motivations to come forth. If we tell people to change even for their own benefit, they may question, dispute, resist or just be passive about our best intentions. But if we allow them to be themselves, people would feel accepted, respected and will naturally gravitate towards changing themselves for the better.
On the other hand, when we feel the urge of improving people, changing things or manipulating a situation, it is more often than not a reflection of our own judgment. A judgment can be false or biased. How can we be sure the way we deem as better is indeed an improvement of the way things are? Apart from a questionable outcome, we also set ourselves on a collision course with reality. To fight an uphill battle to achieve an unclear or maybe unnecessary result doesn’t seem like a wise thing to do.
The answer to the second question shows our readiness to trust the process and allow things to unfold on its own course. This is more challenging as we live in a society that is very much attached to results and outcomes.
Allowing in this aspect may appear to be indecisive, passive or less efficient, but the outcome eventually achieved will be more satisfying, better suited (if not optimal), and contributes to the boost of self-esteem. The process feels lighter, effortless, the outcome more enjoyable.
Forcing to a particular result may appear to be more determined, efficient, and display discipline and a strong will. The questions are efficiency doesn’t always equal long-term effectiveness; the process can be a struggle, and the achievements bring less satisfaction.
The answer to the third question shows our willingness in keeping the goal in sight while allowing things to happen without being too attached to the “right way” of doing things. If we set our sight firmly on Rome, we trust that all the roads lead to Rome.
When committed to a particular goal, allowing people to choose the paths leading to the goal leaves choice, flexibility and some autonomy with the people. The motivation of achieving the goal is more likely to come from within. The effect of the goal achieved can be more sustainable and long lasting.
We all have plenty of experience in being given a goal and a set path. How well did we do? Perhaps for the majority of times we delivered and performed as we were expected to. But aren’t there times when we have a sense of detachment, or a lack of motivation to carry out a task we agreed to do? Discipline and a strong will may not always bring the desired result, while a bit of space and a little detour might work the wonder at times.
Coaching is about change. It’s a form of communication aiming at personal growth or enhancing performance. How would a coach’s choice between allowing and forcing affect his/her coaching?
If a coach agrees that a coaching relationship is all about the client, s/he will have to put her/his judgment, personal agenda and even her/his own truth (not her/his value and ethics though) aside. There is no room for forcing on the part of the coach in a coaching relationship.
Allowing the clients to be themselves and set their own agenda provide the foundation of a successful coaching relationship. Any judgment or manipulation will sabotage the effort.
Coaching is a relationship of equals. A coach does not have the authority or superiority in the forms of knowledge, information, experience, expertise, status or wisdom over the client. In this sense, a coach has no means to force.
Allowing in a coaching relationship requires unconditional respect, trust, patience and a degree of faith. A fundamental difference between coaching and other disciplines like training, consulting, mentoring or teaching is that coaching assumes strength of the client. As coach, we believe the client is naturally resourceful and generally competent.
What makes coaching so effective is this profound shift of how we interact with people. It addresses a much-ignored fact that change is mostly hindered by a lack of motivation rather than a lack of information. The paradox is the more accepting and allowing we are, the more likely a desire to change will emerge and things will unfold the way closer to the ideal.
Commitment, responsibility and accountability
After the agenda is set and a clear goal emerges, it’s vitally important that the client makes the commitment, takes the responsibility and the actions required. The coach can assist the client in this process by holding the client accountable.
Forcing, in the form of determination and self-discipline is very necessary in this respect from the part of the client. It’s a fact of life that not everything comes naturally, easily or in a fun way. In fact, most things don’t. Achievements require effort, and effort involves pushing the boundaries, working hard; postponing or denying instant gratification; being persistent, disciplined and unyielding.
What’s a coach’s role in keeping the client committed and taking responsibilities for themselves?
First of all, a coach needs to make sure a commitment is genuine and in alignment with the client’s values and believes. A half hearted commitment is at best an attempt to try, at worst a set up for failure.
Secondly, when a client can’t deliver a commitment, instead of questioning the coachability of the client, a coach needs to allow the client to reframe the commitment, and see the tasks in a new perspective, in the big picture; encourage self-observation to discover the causes behind the obstacles. It worth reexamines the benefits of the objectives; reiterates the consequences of not achieving them; checks what structure would make it easier to move forward.
By not pushing for the fulfillment of a commitment, the client is left to work through the resistance and obstacles, thus taking responsibilities for themselves. The coach put the choice in front of the client and allows him/her to go through his/her struggle and the process. A coach’s main role here is keeping the client to stay focused and put learning ahead of the dualism of success and failure. It is ultimately the client’s responsibility to achieve a desired outcome.
Allowing the client to take personal responsibility serves the long-term learning of the client. Helping the client make a right decision doesn’t necessarily help him/her learn how to make right decisions in the future.
There is no denial that taking people accountable is a form of intervention. In the coaching context, it’s a way of supporting the client and part of the service a coach offers. For it to be effective, accountability has to come on a voluntary basis and in a form that is agreed upon by the client.