Founder & Managing Director Matt Somers - Coaching Skills Training Ltd
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Effective coaching is a matter of perspective

Nobody plays the villain in their own story, but we can’t all be heroes. To get to the real solutions, we need to be able to meet in the middle.

10th Dec 2020
Founder & Managing Director Matt Somers - Coaching Skills Training Ltd
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Elementary age boy and girl pretend to be superhero and villain.
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In the story of our life we tend to cast ourselves as the hero and others as the villains – but our villains are the heroes in their own telling of the same story.

Rather than waste energy trying to convince others of the superiority of our own position, we’d be better off trying to really listen to we’re their coming from.

Max Price is a newly appointed sales manager. Things are not going well. All the various sales metrics are going in the wrong direction and all look to be heading down from last year.

Minnie Discount works on Max’s team. She is a highly capable sales executive with an enviable track record of success…until this year.

The problem, as Max sees it, is Minnie. What has happened to her? She used to be first in the office and last to leave, with a razor sharp focus in the hours in between. She seemed able to hit her numbers almost effortlessly and then had time to spare to help coach and develop the other team members.  

Max does not feel respected by Minnie and he thinks she undermines him in front of the team. He is aware that he got the promotion that Minnie would have liked but feels he is more than capable of performing in the role if Minnie would stop subverting everything he’s trying to achieve. Actually, he really wishes he could ask Minnie for her help. She’s so experienced she could really help him move forward but she makes it clear she wouldn’t appreciate being asked.

He’s tried to discuss it with Minnie but she just doesn’t seem to want to tackle the underlying issues, which really annoys him and it probably comes across.

The problem, as Minnie sees it, is Max. What were they thinking of promoting him? He just doesn’t have the record in sales that merit his recent promotion. She used to love being the main player on the team, but if all of her hard work is going to go unnoticed, what’s the point? If she’s going to miss out on family time to start early and finish late sometimes, doesn’t that deserve some kind of recognition?

Minnie respects Max for what he’s done elsewhere but doesn’t say much in front of the team for fear of seeming patronising. He got the promotion that Minnie would have liked but knows he’s more than capable of performing in the role if he would just be a little more honest about the learning curve he’s on now. Actually, she really wishes he would ask for her help. She’s has the experience to help him move forward, but he makes it clear he’s never going to ask.

She’s tried to discuss it with Max but he just doesn’t seem to want to tackle the underlying issues, which really annoys her and it probably comes across.

It’s a question of perspective

It’s as if Max and Minnie are sat at opposite ends of a table and somebody puts a number down between them. Max sees a nine, but Minnie sees a six. Neither of them is right, neither of them is wrong – they simply have different perspectives.

When we get stuck in these loops, we tend to judge the other person’s behaviour as wrong, inexplicable or hard to understand, but to them it makes perfect sense. Nobody does anything for no reason. Their behaviour makes sense to them and fulfils some kind psychological need we just might not be able to see initially.

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How to get beyond this

Like most coaches, I have trained myself over the years to try to avoid labelling things as right or wrong, good or bad, better are worse, because those are value judgments that can be very difficult to get people to agree on. It is better to accept that perspectives are simply different and to try to get the focus of those concerned turned outward towards some kind of common goal. So, in the case of Max and Minnie, I’d really want to turn the conversation to what they can each do to arrest the decline in sales results.

There may therefore need to be a frank discussion to attempt to get to the feelings or emotion behind their stance. Why, in our example, does Max feel undermined and why does Minnie feel so let down? No doubt they explored this as they’ve recounted their respective hero’s tales to their friends and family, but what they really need to do is have the conversation with each other.

If they did so, they’d be wise to remember Stephen Covey’s (author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) advice to “seek first to understand and then to be understood”.

In other words, rather than waste energy trying to convince others of the superiority of our own position, we’d be better off trying to really listen to we’re their coming from so that we can then frame our own ideas and suggestions in ways most likely to cut through their own perspective and prove appealing. Of course, if the other party does the same then the chances of finding common ground and an agreed way forward are much improved.

Does this always work?

No, unfortunately not. There will always be people with whom you simply cannot agree and who drive you mad, but remember, you’re like that to them too. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

I remember being on a training course and working on a pairs exercise. The trainer asked us to spend 30 seconds looking at our partner, “as if they ARE a problem!”

Next we had to look at our partners “as if they HAVE a problem!”

It was a subtle shift in perspective, but it had a profound effect. Try it and see if you can redeem some villains.

Interested in this topic? Read Coaching: The words of wisdom that teach us vital life lessons.

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