I really, really hate being told “Do This”. Foolish reaction, I know, but the moment someone tells me that I must do something, I want to protest and resist – You’re not the boss of me!!!! There are many situations that bring on my ‘dragging feet’ reaction: visits to relatives with whom I’m not especially close, dealing with my taxes, filling out personal data forms for work, and many other “you must do this” requirements. I say it’s a foolish reaction because typically doing the action is NEVER as horrible as I anticipate. The visit with the relatives is fun, the taxes take less time and energy than expected and to date I have always survived the experience. So when my manager informed us (his team) that he urged us all very strongly to enroll in a certain program at work, I immediately went into “you can’t tell me what to do” mode.
The irony is that the program he was promoting was the kind of learning I usually take all on my own: learning how to coach people to solve work issues that they face. Over the years I have taken courses in Applied Creative Thinking, been trained as a meeting facilitator, served as a mentor, led training courses, and spent a lot of time in behavioral therapy myself and then trying to teach what I had learned to others. So you’d think that learning to be a more effective coach would be right up my alley. You’d think that, and I recognized that idea, but I was annoyed and resistant. I made sure to wait until beyond the last minute so that I was closed out of all the possible teams. But then to prove I was a “team player” I wrote to the program coordinator apologizing for being late and asking if there was a way to join a team or if I should (oh PLEASE say YES) wait until the next time the program was offered. She put me onto one of her teams. Sigh.
I was EXTREMELY busy at work after that (I believe I have mentioned that *grin*) and so I did none of the prep work. I went to the first session and sat there with my virtual arms crossed and a pout on my virtual face. On camera of course I smiled and put on a “very interested face”. I hope. 🙂 I hated the first session all the way up to the very last 10 minutes. We “wasted” 45 minutes or so for 50 people to introduce themselves and say why they were taking the course. I was the last but one to speak. (Feel the resistance?) Then the facilitator did something technically I’d never seen before – she broke us all into small sub-meetings. Wow – isn’t technology COOL????? I had not known that capability existed and thought it was a fantastic innovation for video conferencing. I was in a room with one other woman. We could see each other’s physical surroundings and we broke the ice talking about sports teams, then started on the assignment. We were summoned back (forcibly) before we had the chance to switch roles. I found that my whole attitude had undergone a change simply from interacting with a real person one on one in a non-threatening environment. I liked her (unlike my reaction to many of the other people introducing themselves – wow you can really tell a lot about a person from the words they use, how long they talk, and their focus *grin*).
I resolved to do more preparation before the next class. My big project had launched, I had more time to work on other matters. Part of my annoyance was the requirement to buy a book in which I had no interest, but I finally downloaded the book to my iPad. The part of the course that was still causing me major stress and concern was the requirement to coach 2 people. I couldn’t think who I might coach. I had an idea that it should be someone younger than I, someone still early in their career. I didn’t really want to reach out to people with whom I work because if I failed or was very bad at this coaching stuff, I didn’t want them to know it and have my good reputation ‘tarnished’. I didn’t know anyone else who’d fit the “young, early in career” stage because my office mates are mostly senior folks who are looking towards retirement, or they are transient employees in for the day to use office facilities. I also thought that it isn’t just the coachee/client who is vulnerable in a session – the coach is also vulnerable. At least I felt *I* would be vulnerable – what if I failed? Who to coach and how was I going to avoid/fulfill this requirement?
I had a meeting with a coworker who is also a friend. We were chatting about business matters and about work and I mentioned this course, and whined about not having anyone to coach and not knowing where to find someone. I was absolutely astounded when he said “You can coach me.” Full Stop. It never occurred to me to reach out to someone like this: senior, well-established, a friend. It took him a few minutes to convince me he was serious and me a few minutes to adjust to the idea of trying to coach a friend. We agreed to give it a try. He recommended a young person we both knew as my second ‘client’ but I was still a bit resistant to coaching someone on my team. But his willingness to be coached made me rethink the people I know at work. I actually know many, many people with whom I have a good relationship and who might agree to 3 one-hour sessions to let me practice coaching. I reached out to one of them, a woman with whom I used to work regularly before she moved to another role. She agreed!!! She was extremely interested and enthusiastic about the idea. I began to be very excited as well. We set our first session for later that week.
I began to catch up on all the assignments. I began reading the book (I was correct – I don’t like it, it doesn’t speak to me, but there are one or two points that I found worth noting). I started watching the videos, which infuriated me no end. They were recorded several years ago. This means there has been PLENTY of time for someone to go in and edit those videos and crop out the leading 10 minutes of people chatting about so and so retiring and “can you hear me now?” and “please put your phones on mute”, and “please call back on another line”. Seriously – I feel that not cropping that kind of nonsense out of the videos but making the videos required viewing is disrespectful to course participants. I really hate the videos until they reach the point where the practice coaching begins. I admire the people who have volunteered to be the coach and the coachee. I’ll tell you right now – it’s SCARY to try to coach when you have NEVER done it before and don’t know what questions to ask or what works. The fact that one woman volunteered to do that and to do it IN FRONT OF OTHERS was impressive. She wasn’t very good at it but she was game and she kept going. The other videos I’ve watched (really listened – there is no video recording during the coaching) were much the same – a lot of stuff that should have been cropped, repetition from prior videos, new material and then a practice coaching session, then someone’s observations and feedback from both coach and coachee. The coaching sessions are incredibly interesting and valuable. I have been taking copious notes.
I did my first coaching session yesterday. I did a LOT of preparation. I printed out course materials, wrote notes on them, highlighted things I wanted to remember, spread them out about my laptop where I could see them without needing to look away from the client. I worried about how we’d switch from friend mode to coach/client mode, and reviewed what I’d heard in the practice sessions. I was as ready as I thought I could be. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to maintain a coach role. I have a strong tendency to jump in when someone is explaining a work situation and share my similar experience, or to offer an opinion in support, or to propose solutions to the problems. None of that is suitable for a coach. I was aware through the entire hour of keeping my eyes focused on the client’s face (I moved my screen shot so that her face was right above my camera so as I looked at her face, I was staring right into the camera), to not interrupting (keep your mouth shut and LISTEN), to hear what words she used and where she took the conversation. I was writing notes out of view of the camera (they are probably illegible since my writing is horrible to start and I wasn’t LOOKING as I wrote) but I didn’t really need them. I relied on the course notes, and what I’d heard other coaches say/do and tried to follow those examples. It was GREAT. I loved it.
At the end of the hour, I felt we had done very well. To be fair, I suspect one of the reasons it went so well was because I had a great client. She wanted to be there, she could articulate her issues, she had ideas and she responded well to the open-ended questions. The client had actions she planned to implement, we talked about a time frame, we agreed to meet again to discuss the other issues she’d mentioned. When she said to me “you’re a great listener” I felt extremely rewarded. I learned a lot about myself, and about helping others. This IS the kind of work I like to do. Not only did I enjoy this experience but I’m now wondering if this is something I can do as a next role. Helping people resolve their road blocks might be every bit as rewarding as playing with kittens all day. *smile*
Resistance was silly.