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ASK, NOT TELL

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Walking into the ‘Shadow’ Together

Updated: Apr 22


(Photo source - https://snapshotsforsoreeyes.com/2015/06/22/light-at-the-end/)


Jimmy (pseudonym) told me (as the coach), ‘I am considering restructuring the team.’


I asked, ‘What makes you think so?’


Jimmy replied, ‘There is a staff member who has been causing lot of problems to me, the team and the business….’


Jimmy elaborated in length the problems. Upon further inquiry, it appeared that the person was indeed destroying team cohesion and failing to deliver business results. More importantly, Jimmy seemed to be very frustrated in describing him.


‘Why keeping the person in the team?’, I wondered.


‘I dare not to let him go…’, Jimmy replied with a slight sigh, and then quickly switched to talk about other reasons, the high-sounding ones e.g. the person may still be adapting, etc. These are often the sign that there is something more significant but somehow unspoken.


‘It does sound challenging. Let’s back-track a bit. Tell me more what you meant by “I dare not to let him go”....’, I stopped him and asked.


‘Oh no, in fact, not really that I dare not to…’, Jimmy moved away his eye contact and said ‘… the person is new in the role. We should give him some more time…’


I insisted to explore despite him appearing to be annoyed. After a few rounds of exchange, finally, he said hesitantly, ‘…. well… the person will bad-mouth us in the market. He had a reputation for doing so…’


‘So, you plan to restructure the team in order to keep a problem staff member because of such threat?’, I sought clarification.


Jimmy fell into deep thought and followed with a smile of embarrassment. He admitted that it is indeed the case, and that he only realized it now. After giving him some space to settle in and think out loud,


I furthered, ‘This is indeed a difficult situation. This leads me to think the ‘Ideal Self’ you mentioned in our first session. How does dealing with this people issue this way help or not help you advance towards the ‘Ideal Self’?’


We spent most of our first session to work on the question ‘If life is perfect 5 years from now, what does it look like?’ One element is to have his shopping mall become the cultural icon in his own town which triggers cultural change in how his people live their lives. Jimmy was excited and inspired with this image he came up with.


Jimmy responded very quickly with eye wide open, ‘No, it is not helping at all. If I keep this person, good members will be demotivated and even leave me. I need them to achieve my dream…..’


Moving away from the ‘restructuring’, we also explored how much the trouble-maker is somehow the ‘spoke-person’ of the whole team. This did not resonate much with Jimmy and I decided to let it as seed planted for future sessions.


Fast forward to the session end – Jimmy decided to confront directly with the person by giving him feedback and state out consequence. We also reflected how much it is his pattern to avoid conflict like this and hide such avoidance (like what happened in this very coaching session).


To my surprise, when we had our following session 3 weeks later, Jimmy told me that he was about to have the manage-out conversation after our coaching on that day. He has issued warning and prepared what was needed e.g. engaged his boss and consulted with HR. No one would know for sure whether it is the RIGHT decision. But I was very amazed how determined he became to confront difficult relationship.


On reflection, this is a vivid example how self awareness can lead to movement. We worked on more the WHATs rather than the HOWs. And the movement is out of intrinsic motivation rather than externally imposed ‘best practice’. Behavioral change is more likely and sustainable when it is about ‘What I WANT to do’ rather than ‘What I SHOULD do’.


Secondly, the episode is a combination of positively-oriented and psychodynamics approach, though these approaches are sometimes seen as ‘competing’. To the former, we worked on the ‘Ideal Self’. With this as the backdrop, to the latter approach, we worked on his personal defense in the form of avoidance as well as possible group one in scapegoating the person.


This also illustrates my philosophy in practitioners’ development, at least mine. I am not aiming to become a practitioner of certain xxx-ism. Instead, I aim learn different approaches to develop a practice of my own, which can best leverage me as a resources. But wait, or I am avoiding coaches’ resistance when I stick to one approach….. hm….?

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