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On Coaching and Being Coached

by Lucy Freedman

Many people I know, including myself, pride themselves on helping others. We love to experience the value we feel when we add value for someone else. But how many of us are as willing to be coached as to coach someone else? "Change agents" may simply be those of us who decide to be the changer to avoid being the change.

As a charter member of the too-smart-to-learn club, I recently took a deeper look at the dynamics of coachability. How come even those of us who are committed to learning and to helping people have such a hard time receiving coaching or any kind of feedback?

It is a feature of my native culture, and probably yours if you grew up in the Western Judeo-Christian ethic, that the ability to criticize is deemed a measure of smarts. How much more smarts it takes to deliver the messages in ways that hold no criticism and that bypass the learner's inner critic! In her feature article in this newsletter, coach and Syntax consultant Sandy Mobley addresses the beliefs and behavior of coaches who are able to run interference with both the inner and outer critic.

For me, learning something new sends the immediate message: you are wrong. If I need to learn something new, I must not know it already, must be deficient, must have missed out on some intelligence that others have. Perhaps it is the one-down power relationship of the child, when being taught by bigger people, that produces such a struggle in ourselves to maintain self-esteem.

The superior evolution and value of people who can learn has been demonstrated over and over again. Even so, the ego suffers when it is time for new learning - at the stage we refer to as "conscious incompetence." Some of my best learning times - where I somehow lost the fear of inadequacy long enough to receive corrective feedback - were times when I was in a community that reinforced safety, positive regard, and the explicit value system where asking for help was admired.

A few years back I first heard about the idea of "appreciative inquiry" in a workshop about using simulation activities for team learning. It made perfect sense, allowing a group of senior internal and external consultants to attempt to stay positive in giving each other feedback. In Syntax, we practice exercising the muscle of focusing on the desired result, the "Aim Frame" in approaching group situations, so I was able to recognize when people in the workshop were able to maintain the positive frame and offer intelligent insights.

In Appreciative Inquiry, attributed to David Cooperrider of Case Western Reserve University, you assume that something IS working. The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry by Sue Annis Hammond,( SueHammond@AOL.com) is a good introduction to the depth of this approach. It represents a shift of attitude, a possible salvation for the uncoachable.

As more and more of us are aware of and working with this and other frame-shifting methods we will be able to help future learners reduce the struggle to accept feedback. Perhaps we can all begin to welcome feedback, even the uncomfortable parts, and take care of our egos and our self-esteem through positive living!

I hope that the growth of the coaching profession signals the growth of our willingness to ask for help, to recognize true wisdom rather than smarts, and to receive the same abundance and love that we want to give.

When we take responsibility for dealing with our own inner critics we are to have a culture that is no longer slave to harsh voices from the past. We can manage our behavior to gain simultaneously on both sides of the learning equation: we can help ourselves as well as others recognize and reframe criticism.
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