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Coaching Tip: When Validation and Acknowledgment Backfire

Posted by Julia Stewart

Coaching Tip

 

Subtitle this post, 'Coaches Behaving Badly'!

One of the basic coaching skills, which collectively are called the Coaching Foundations, is Validate Everything. I define validation as any appropriate expression of support, whether positive ('That's great!'), or negative ('That sucks!'). There are lots of ways to validate in coaching and one of the most effective, is acknowledgment.

Except when it's not.

Mattison Grey wrote the book on acknowledgment and defines it as a statement about what someone did, or the results they got, shared with a tone of wonderment. She says acknowledgment works when other forms of validation, such as offering compliments, do not, because often, people feel judged when complimented.

I couldn't agree more and Mattison is awesome at acknowledgment, but I've had yucky experiences with compliments, validations, and even acknowledgments, because sometimes, no matter how skilled people are at delivering them, they muck it up, anyway.

They just can't help it!

Most of my yucky experiences occurred with newish coaches, who most likely were just making mistakes with a new skill set and that's understandable. But sometimes it came from veteran coaches and then it looks like a character issue. As in, poor personal development, or lack of integrity.

Here are a couple of examples:

I used to work for a coach training company that called validation, championing. All the coaches there went about championing each other, because that's what good coaches do, right?

One of my coaching colleagues there used to champion me so lavishly that, one day, I asked her to stop, because I felt increasingly uncomfortable. I really didn't need, nor want to hear, over and over, what a great coach I was, what a fantastic coach trainer, how impressive my success was, nor how amazing was my devotion and commitment to my coaching clients and students. Ugh.

The next day though, she made several remarks that called into question my honesty and integrity regarding the coaching profession. Hmm, really? The same person's saying these things? It communicated to me that although she usually said over-the-top positive things to me, underneath she was judging me negatively on some major stuff.

She later apologized, which is great, but I never felt I could trust her. She had shown that regardless how syrupy her validations were, she was really thinking something else. In fact, to me, she was a suck up. 

She left me feeling uncomfortable, insulted, and annoyed. That's how I still remember her.

You know, the IAC certification scorecard measures, among other things, whether the coach demonstrates consistency (a.k.a. integrity) between words and actions. If you validate, champion, acknowledge, or whatever you call it, and then demonstrate that you don't really believe what you said, you damage trust with the client.

Not validating enough during coaching is a mistake. Validating, but not meaning it, is an even more destructive mistake.

One of the problems with coach training is that sometimes we emphasize the 'how', instead of the 'who'. Thomas Leonard used to tell coaches to champion, because that's just who we are. If you do it for any other reason, you're manipulating. And the person you're manipulating will smell a rat.

I call dishonest validation, schmoozing. That's an Americanism, derived from Yiddish, that means to gossip or chat with someone, in an intimate manner, in order to manipulate, flatter, or impress them.

But you could just as well call it, INvalidation, because that's the effect it has.

Then there was the colleague from the past, who showed up in one of my classes at SCM. I was surprised she signed up, because I knew she had been coaching at least as long as I. The first day of class, she delivered some schmoozy validations of me, as a coach and coach trainer. Then she referenced her own great coaching skill and left a pause. I got the feeling I was supposed to reciprocate by acknowledging her prowess as a coach. Problem was, I had no memory of ever hearing her coach. Well, that was a little awkward!

There were any number of ways I could have navigated that awkward moment, but something blocked me. As my mind searched for any memory I had of her and her coaching, only one memory was vivid: She once called me up, offered me an interesting opportunity to teach coaching in a college, and said lots of nice, schmoozy things about how I was such a great coach and trainer and she knew I was the right person for the job, which basically involved coaching eight hours per day, at a college that was three hours away. The pay? $100 per day!! I don't consider myself to be thin skinned, but yes, I was insulted. It would have been better if she had asked me to volunteer for free.

Not surprisingly, she dropped the SCM course in a huff, before it was over. That's the kind of thing people do when they want you to acknowledge them and you don't do it. She also said some pretty nasty things about me and my training ability in an email.

And then, right on time, I opened an email from a coach I really admire. It began with a quote from Maya Angelou: 

“When people show you who they are, believe them the first time."

The takeaway? Schmoozers schmooze. They can't be trusted, much less deliver great coaching, because great isn't fake.

Of course, nobody has to be a schmoozer for life. I've caught myself being fake, and try to remember it when schmoozy folks cross my path. Like the time I got an email from a coach I didn't like and forwarded it to a friend with a snarky comment. Then I saw the disliked coach at a coaching function. He offered a hug, so I hugged him. The next day, he emailed me. I'd hit, 'reply' instead of 'forward', so he got the snarky comment, instead of my friend! How fake was that to criticize him in private, then hug him in public? That memory is an embarrassing reminder that I'm still a work in progress, like everybody else. I've used it to upgrade my own behavior.

But once again, Maya Angelou says it best:

“I've learned that people will forget what you said; people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

If you're going to validate, acknowledge, or champion, do it because that's who you are and it's what you really believe. Otherwise, you may succeed at making someone feel good at first, but your behavior will give you away, and the contrast will make your judgmental behavior even uglier to the other person. That feels yucky and that's how they'll always remember you.

How do you become someone who champions just because that's who you are, and not because you're manipulative? Like anything else, practice. Get a coach. And work tirelessly on your personal development. Learn to get your ego out of the way and trust the process. 

Otherwise, you may be remembered as a schmoozer.

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Topics: Coaching, Coaching Groundwork, Thomas Leonard, Mattison Grey, Coaching Tip, acknowledgment

6 Ideas That'll Change Your Coaching and Your Life

Posted by Julia Stewart

Positivity RatioI'm always looking for new ideas that'll upgrade, broaden, or deepen my coaching, so it's more effective. You too? Then you'll love this post.

It's a challenge to keep readers like you, well...challenged. You're a pretty sophisticated bunch.

But here goes: some of the best ideas I've encountered, which ultimately changed my life and the way I coach and may change your life and coaching too.

 

1. The Power of Negativity. This first one is possibly the most powerful idea to come out of positive psychology. It's the concept of the Positivity Ratio and the upper limit of positivity, which can be measured as both positive thoughts and feelings, as well as whether you're curious or defending your point of view, and/or focused on yourself or on those around you. To flourish, you, your relationship, your business, or your coaching, needs at least a three-to-one ratio of positivity to negativity. AND there's an upward limit around eleven-to-one, beyond which things go down fast. So, if you're a Law of Attraction Nazi, or if you focus only on the good stuff in coaching, stepping over the problematic stuff, or if you relentlessly reframe problems into opportunities, or (as one of my clients famously put it) FLO's (F*cking Learning Opportunities), you may hinder, rather than help your clients. (Read Barbara Fredrickson's Positivity.)

2. The Tyranny of Mild Praise. This one also comes from positive psychology and it's about relationships. Let's face it, the relationship between coach and client does much of the coaching for us. Therefore, the concept called, Active Constructive Responding (ACR), is critical. What is ACR? It's an over-the-top form of acknowledgment that includes positive tone of voice (genuine excitement, awe, wonder), positive body language (smiling, eye contact, touching), repeating the specifics of what the other has said, commenting on it's importance to the other, suggesting a celebration; all of which leads to flourishing within the relationship. NONE of the other types of responses, including Passive Constructive Responding (Flat tone of voice, general praise, "That's nice."), Passive Destructive Responding (ignoring, changing the subject, turning away), or Active Negative Responding (showing concern, pointing out problems); I repeat, none of these promote relationships. In fact they ALL have a negative impact on relationships, which obviously can negatively impact coaching. I've listened to thousands of coaching sessions over the years. Even "good" coaches tend to rely heavily on Passive Constructive Response, or a hybrid of ACR and PCR, which  clearly limits the value of their coaching. ACR can be a challenge to weave into coaching and for some of us, it's a challenge to make it truly genuine, but master coaches do it all the time. For others, over-using ACR (see above) damages our credibility. This is a tool that we can't afford not to master. (Read Martin Seligman's Flourish.)

3. Change Your Brain to Change Your Mind. This one comes from neuroscience and it has profound implications for positive psychology coaches, as well as every other type of coach. As members of my positive psychology course know, the Positivity Ratio can be used to measure and increase your current potential for flourishing and it'sa nifty coaching tool. There are also tools, founded in modern neuroscience, that can change the brain to sustainably increase peace, happiness, love and other elements of positivity. Literally, you can grow some areas of your brain so that they become more dominant, relatively permanently. And over-developed areas that may be problematic (such as the over-sized amygdala of those who suffer from anxiety) can shrink, again causing sustainable change. Change your brain; change your life for good. I just took a neuroscience seminar on this, but you can read more about it. (Read Rick Hanson's Buddha's Brain.)

4. Coaching's Not Complete If It's Not Integral. I'm taking a course from Integral Philospher, Ken Wilber. Some people say he's the most important philosopher since Plato, but that statement begs an argument, so I won't say it. Suffice it to say, if you don't know his work, your evolution may be stymied. And that of your clients, as well. As coaches, we say our clients are whole, complete and perfect. Trouble is, we may be blind to some of that perfection. And our clients almost certainly are. Blind spots make trouble (see #5, below). Wilber's Integral Model, known as AQAL, is an elegant map that streamlines how we know anything and how we evolve. It's closely aligned with Spiral Dynamics, which I'll be teaching next month. But AQAL goes even further. The AQAL Map is a beautiful tool to use when helping our clients design accountability structures, supportive systems, environments and strategic habitats (or whatever you prefer to call them). With AQAL, we can easily see if we're leaving anything out, or if the client is blind to some aspects of reality (almost everybody is). Plus, we have an evolutionary framework. It makes the complex simple, when you understand it. I'll be teaching an introductory course on integral coaching soon, but start reading books on Integral Theory now. (Read Wilber's simplest book, Integral Vision.)

5. All Coaching is Shadow Coaching - Or Should Be. My first lesson from Zen Master, Genpo Roshi, included a joke - on us. To paraphrase, he said (with a laugh), evolved people like to say they're whole, complete and perfect, except the parts they don't like about themselves. But you can't be complete without all of it! So what parts of yourself don't you like? The part that overeats? The part that's naive? The part that gets tongue-tied at parties? It's not those parts that keep you fragmented, it's the fact that you try to disown them. Then they become blind spots, which grow into shadows, which undermine and sabotage you. That's what fragmentation really is. For many people, the first step toward wholeness is integration of the parts they formerly disliked. That's the underlying cause of stuckness and it keeps coming back until all aspects of the self are integrated (or Integral). Some people are so fragmented that they lose the ability to choose wholeness. That's what is known as mental illness and I'm not suggesting that shadow coaching can cure that. But even healthy people have shadows and we can choose to integrate them with assistance from a skilled coach.  I use this approach in my Great Self Coaching. Genpo Roshi is incredibly masterful at it from a Zen perspective. (Read Genpo Roshi's Big Mind/Big Heart.)

6. Your Business Model May Be Too Infantile to Last. I've also been studying Adizes Management Methodology of late. Ichak Adizes is a legendary management consultant who deftly identified several different stages of a business life cycle. His theory explains, among other things, why the US Government is floundering these days (no, it has nothing to do with Republicans vs. Democrats). One thing that strikes me about it is that most coaches base their businesses on one of three early-stage levels and expect their businesses to continue at that stage forever. It won't happen. I'm happy to say, I saw this even before I studied Adizes and I'm ready for it. I'll write more at length on how you can design your business to last in a future post. But this issue could explain why our industry is so successful, but some coaches never enjoy that success. (Read Ichak Adizes' Corporate life cycles)

We all have access to too much information these days. But there really is no substitution for knowing the right stuff.

Topics: coaching business, Coaching, Coaches, Law of Attraction, master coach, Great Self Coaching, Spiral Dynamics, Ken Wilber, Genpo Roshi, Big Mind Big Heart, Integral Philosophy, acknowledgment, coaching tool, Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman

Coaching Questions Don't Always End With Question Marks

Posted by Julia Stewart

Business Coach, Mattison Grey, MCCToday, in the International Association of Coaching's (IAC) Voice newletter/blog, an article by Business Coach, Mattison Grey, MCC, appeared with the title, When the Best Coaching Tool Isn't a Question.

In her article, Mattison makes a powerful case for acknowledgment as a masterful coaching tool. She should know. Mattison wrote the book on acknowledgment called, The Motivation Myth. And she points out that most coaches don't know what it is or confuse it with something else.

Mattison has studied the art of acknowledgment more than anyone I know, probably more than any coach alive, so I always defer to her on this subject. She started educating me on acknowledgment six or seven years ago and I've watched her use it in action many times. It truly is amazing.

Unfortunately, if you haven't watched a master acknowledger practice her art, or if you didn't know what you were witnessing, you probably missed the implications. So let me point out a few.

Here's Mattison's definition of acknowledgment:

Acknowledgment is saying what a person did, or results they achieved, delivered with a tone of appreciation, curiosity or surprise, and without judgment.

Easy, right? Try it. For most coaches, it's anything but easy. That's because we're still getting in the client's way (In other words, we're NOT making it all about them, so we're failing the first step in master coaching).

If you acknowledge well, here are some of the things that may happen:

  • Your client lights up
  • They feel seen/heard
  • They don't feel suspicious (as in, 'What's she buttering me up for?')
  • They acknowledge themselves ('I did!')
  • They open up to us
  • They see themselves in a new light
  • They tell us things we didn't even know to ask about
  • They think more resourcefully
  • They step into their Personal Greatness
  • They are willing to do far more
  • They love themselves (and us)

When I teach acknowledgment to Master Coach Training students, I offer a few pointers, such as, use second-person pronouns (you, your, yours) instead of first-person pronouns (I, me, mine); acknowledge what the client did, the results they got and who they are becoming.

When used well, acknowledgment can express or enhance virtually any other coaching skill, including all of the IAC Coaching Masteries(tm). The right acknowledgment, well-placed and followed by a bit of silence, can even be a powerful clarifier.

Which is one reason why master coaches don't always ask questions.

Motivation Myth

 

Get your copy of Mattison's book, The Motivation Myth (at left) and become a master of acknowledgment.*

 

*I'm an affiliate of Mattison's and I would recommend this book, anyway.

Topics: business coach, Coaching, blog, Become a Master Coach, coaching questions, IAC Coaching Masteries, Mattison Grey, Masterful Coaching, IAC Voice, acknowledgment, MCC, Master Coach Training, IAC, coaching tool

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