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Tip #56The Coach as an Irritant:  A Good Thing?

As a coach and leader, there are times when I find myself wondering if I’ve struck a wrong chord. I intervene in a meeting, and the individual or group shows signs of mild irritation, or even strong anger: “This is not what we said” or “This is not what I want!"  Obviously I hit a nerve….is that a good thing or a bad thing?

It’s a bad thing when people feel judged, and no longer know whose interest you’re serving. They begin to lose trust in you and in the process. It’s a good thing when irritation is the key to growth and learning. How can I, as a coach, tell the difference?  
Through trial and error, I have learned to pay close attention to the reactions around me and to take a closer look inside myself to unearth my own motivation, consciously or subconsciously.

 

To know if I am off key, I authentically ask myself:
  • Did I step in uninvited and start offering my interpretation of what is being said: Did I lose my perspective as coach?
  • Did I want something more for the group or individual than they want for themselves: Did I steer the discussion toward an outcome I thought was best?
  • Did I lose my focus and end up playing catch up while the conversation was changing course: Did I miss the boat?
If the honest answer to any of these questions is ‘Yes’, then you can rest assured that the individual or group has picked up on this ‘manipulation’, however well intentioned, and is royally peeved. You become the lightning rod of their discontent.

On the other hand, the irritation may be a sign that I am hitting the right ‘dissonant’ note:
  • Did I bump into the elephant in the room? If I did, some individuals in a group may loudly protest while others are stopping dead in their tracks. This tell tale combination of dissonance and silence is the clue that something is about to be named.
  • Did I trip on the trap door where bigger issues are deeply buried? If I did, the individual will show signs of emotion that may seem out of proportion with the issue at hand. Why the tears in the eyes when speaking of a small shift in responsibilities? Why the loud laughter when asked about the next step for the team?
A coach-facilitator-leader needs to be a positive force for change. When dealing with complicated group issues, to maintain the right balance between coaching and steering, I keep these principles in mind:
  • SPACE:  When I notice I’ve hit a nerve, I stop everything, and give people the space to ponder. I may let silence reign or gently ask if there is anything happening beneath the waterline. With this pause, participants may be considering an idea or may be rejecting it. You won’t know which way they’ll go if you continue filling the space with chatter, or with more activities.
  • FLOW:  See if they come back to the idea. Many individuals or groups will circle back, adding a twist here, a qualifier there, to create the new reality.
  • FOCUS:  As a coach-facilitator-leader, keep your focus on them, not your perceived blunder. Tune in to their channel and listen respectfully. You will see them reach their own conclusions.
Dominique
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