Easier Can Be Better

Taking the easier course of action
Easier can sometimes better

Tremendous energy can be poured into changing old patterns and behaviours. When you identify some quality of yourself that is not working for you, the tendency is to place enormous attention on changing it to a satisfactory behaviour. For most of us, that is accompanied by our internal critic working overtime, that voice within us that speaks into our middle ear about how we don’t measure up, won’t amount to much, and are under performing. The more effort we exert to change, the greater this voice that articulates all the accumulated negative feedback of our past becomes. It can become a riot in our mind. Even without the critic, and there appear to be the fortunate few with that blessed silence, focussing on changing old patterns tends to be a long and relatively unrewarding process.

Neuroscience has identified that once a neural pathway is established, and only a few repetitions are needed for the brain to adopt and establish a new pathway, it is almost impossible to remove. The best approach for change is to bed down another pathway, and place attention on asserting that behaviour until it becomes dominant. Rather than remove the old pathway, the idea is to create a newer, more productive, and more frequently used, pathway that makes the less productive pathway irrelevant through disuse.

I had an experience of this recently. Following significant surgery I had earlier last year I have found my confidence when facilitating groups markedly diminished. The degree of nervousness prior to running a session was significantly greater than my pre-surgery experience, and after I completed a session I found my critic undermining me for the most insignificant of reasons. However, when I was actually in front of the group running the session I had almost none of those issues, finding myself comfortable and increasingly fluent in my facilitation. On a recent weekend programme, the struggle against these before and after pain-laden attacks on my psyche were particularly pronounced. Rather than fretting over the behaviours that were undermining me, I shifted my focus by firstly sharing very simply with others I trusted that I was anxious, struggling, and otherwise authentically expressing and naming my experience in the moment. This had the effect of diminishing the energy building up around the anxiety, and curbed it. I then found that my capacity within a session improved because my warm up to it was cleaner, and the post-session internal shame game also diminished. As the multi-day programme unfolded I continued this practice and found that the confidence was easier to achieve as I owned my anxiety without making a big deal of it. I consciously placed my attention on the outcome I was seeking, a fluid and confident facilitation session. My focus and attention was very much placed on the outcome I sought rather than on changing the old pattern of anxiety, and the transition felt relatively smooth.

When you have an unproductive behaviour that is dominating you, perhaps you can identify what you would prefer to do instead, and find ways of asserting that behaviour, rather than condemning and “changing” the old one. Some ways of supporting and enabling such change in oneself can be journalling, enlisting the support of a coach, and developing awareness of your inner mental and emotional world to determine the most opportune intervention to offer yourself.

An Alternative to Giving Advice

Holding a coaching conversation
Conversing about possibilities and generating insights

It is so easy to offer advice when asked for input. In many cases it feels fantastic being asked, and sometimes even when not asked, to offer a ready solution and send the other person on their way with a greater sense of how much you know and is needed. Sometimes the advice is given at the first hint of what the solution might be, not taking the time to hear the person out, because “it is so obvious” and after all “that is what they want”.

Of course, there are times when it is appropriate to offer advice, examples being: You are the subject matter expert and they specifically need your expertise that they do not possess themselves and cannot develop easily in the time available.

Hmm, that’s about it.

However, there is an alternative to advice giving that, while taking more time and effort, offers great rewards both to the provider and the seeker of guidance: having a coaching conversation.

With a coaching conversation your responsibility as the provider is to enable the growth and development of the seeker, while leaving responsibility for what action to take with the seeker. Give advice, and it is your solution, your approach, your responsibility, and there is no ownership by the seeker. By having a coaching conversation you facilitate the thought process of the seeker, open and extend their capacity to develop their own solutions, enable them to have “ah ha” moments of realisation from which they permanently own the insight and develop in them a greater sense of self-esteem. In general, the benefits to you as the provider include a rich and meaningful conversation, the knowledge that someone else has left your space with greater capacity within themselves, and most likely you have strengthened the relationship with and the loyalty of the seeker to you.

At its heart, the coaching conversation is a dialogue in which you, as the provider, listen for understanding and potential, use questions to discover and extend the seeker’s thought process, provide open, clear, balanced and honest feedback, and facilitate the conversation so it remains on track. It does require ready solutions to be parked, for you to value the seeker as someone worth your time and investment, and for you to develop your capacity to truly be with someone else instead of caught up in what you need to do next.

As someone who is often approached for career advice, I vouch for the personal benefits of shifting tack and developing capacity to have coaching conversations. I experience a much deeper connection with and richer experience of people with whom I have such conversations. I enjoy my shift of attention being from “being right” in the advice I give, and all the responsibility that goes with that, to the appreciation of the qualities and capabilities of the person I am conversing with, and recognising the genuine intent within them to perform as well as possible. It is a refreshingly different and exciting place to function from. Anyone can occupy this space.

What motivates you and strengthens your desire and capacity to perform? Of the people who have had the most profound and positive impact on your development, what were the key qualities they exhibited?

If you find yourself offering advice, what factors are you aware of that encourage this behaviour? Do you have any interest in strengthening being less advice-giving? If so, what could you do to bring about that change within yourself?