• 5th June 2006 - By proteman

    In The Loyalty Group’s June e-newsletter on Coaching, I promised my own personal story about how a coach impacted me. Here goes…

    Several years ago my company was at a turning point and I had some tough decisions to make about our direction, and the role I would play as our company’s leader. It was the perfect time to work with a coach.

    We started with the usual stuff – goal setting, crafting my personal mission, my company’s business plan, etc. We reviewed The Loyalty Group’s values, which included Integrity. I stressed to my coach that this value was very personal to me – as well as critical to our business philosophy. I talked at length about what integrity looked like, why I valued it – and how I’d always prided myself on it.

    In a later meeting, I shared with my coach a problem I was having with a long-term business associate. We were struggling to come to terms on a contract, and I thought that my associate was being petty. I was resentful that he was asking for what I perceived as unfair terms. I was considering pulling out of the relationship all together. I remember telling my coach, “This is causing me more time and stress than it’s worth. It’s easier to just walk away.”

    My coach asked if I’d shared my feelings with the associate.

    “Not really,” I said. “We’ve had lots of discussions about the business terms, but I haven’t actually said how I feel, or that I’m ready to walk away. I don’t think it’ll do any good.”

    My coach called me out. He said, “So you don’t truly value Integrity?”

    I was taken aback. I asked what he meant.

    He explained, “You say that you pride yourself on your high Integrity. Yet you’re not being honest with your associate. You’re stewing, stressing, complaining behind his back, talking to me about the problem, thinking that he’s being petty…yet you haven’t told him how you feel. Now you’re thinking of ending this long-term relationship without giving him the benefit of knowing what’s going on. How is that acting with Integrity?”

    Now I don’t recommend this type of tough-love coaching approach for everyone. My coach knew that, given my strong personality, it was what I needed. And he was right. His words were like icewater being thrown in my face. I had to rethink everything. Was it possible that I saw myself as someone who was candid and possessed high integrity – but was actually something different in practice?

    This was an especially appalling thought for me, being a consultant. How many clients and organizations had I coached about “Walking the Talk?” But here I was, being called on the very same issue. I felt like a hypocrite.

    Why am I sharing this story? Take what you want from it, but there are a few key lessons I learned:

    - Great coaches are like great parents, in that they don’t have to be your friends. If you want someone to always make you feel good, support you even when you’re wrong and have laughs with…call a friend. If you want to hear the truth and be asked the tough questions that your friends won’t ask…go get a good coach.

    - When someone gives you feedback that hurts, there’s probably some truth to it…even if the words themselves are harsh. My husband is an actor so I read some of the acting trade magazines. The world’s most accomplished actors consistently say, “When I read a script and I’m afraid of taking the part, I know I have to do it. If it’s going to be a tough role for me, it’s probably the right one.” Remember, from discomfort comes growth. When you get tough coaching feedback, take a deep breath, count to 10, resist the urge to defend yourself, and ask yourself, “What’s behind this feedback?” Assume there is at least some grain of truth to it. Work with your coach to find it and do something about it.

    In case you’re wondering, I do believe that I’ve changed from the experience. After this coaching discussion, I had a very direct conversation with my associate. I won’t lie. It was painful. But when it was done, we came out the other side in a very good place. We’re closer than ever and have a new level of candor in our relationship. I always remember this when I’m confronted with a difficult interpersonal situation and I’m tempted to walk away. Face it. It’ll be painful in the short-term, but easier in the long-term.

    I’d like to hear your personal story about a tough coaching discussion. What’s the most difficult feedback or coaching you’ve received – and how did it change you for the better?

    ©2006 The Loyalty Group. All Rights Reserved. www.TheLoyaltyGroup.com

  • One Response to “Toughen Up with Hard to Hear Feedback”

    • Ben Silverman on June 27, 2006

      I read your coaching article and have similar experiences giving tough feedback. The more you do it the more you feel good about clearing the air. My HR manager gave me a “Monkey on your Back” analogy about giving this kind of feedback that I find helpful. As a manager, carrying the burden of having some one on your team who is not performing to your expectations is like you (the manager) carrying the problem employee’s monkey. Each of us has enough of our own monkeys. Clarifying expectations and giving difficult feedback that this is the employee’s problem to solve can feel like you are giving them back their monkey.

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