The power of self-awareness is something that we coaches expound upon as the key to behavior changes. And the link is indeed strong. But our attempts at self-understanding can sometimes be wasted effort. Specifically, when the particular feeling we want to understand is self-doubt, it may be best to forge ahead without thoroughly exploring “Why do I feel overwhelmed or unqualified for this challenge?” A powerful and engrained story may not let you answer the question constructively anyway.
I just completed a coaching engagement with a professional services executive (call her Nina) who wanted to get more comfortable initiating conversations with people she didn’t know well, in support of business development. Nina’s breakthrough progress led to a series of external meetings that is now spiraling into valuable new business opportunities.
By probing around her discomfort, we discovered that it was rooted in her own “story” about asking for help: Nina believed that she got where she was without ever asking anyone for help or favors because that is what talented go-getters do, and that asking for assistance, or even simply asking for other viewpoints, meant that she would be perceived as weak or less capable. In short, she thought she’d be undermining her professional credibility.
Rather than try to understand where in her past she constructed this story and then pick apart its validity, we took a short cut. She described to me a couple of the conversations she was avoiding, and I role-played as her, making the request – a business development introduction, for example – as a logical, win-win proposition with no downside. When she heard the language I used, and saw my demeanor, she realized that her “ask” need not make her appear weak at all. She then chose her own similar language and style, and went out into the world with her “asks” – which were actually fruitful, two-way dialogues. The responses she got served as immediate positive reinforcement.
Nina’s experience is a “Fake It Until You Make It” success story that left her more confident. It took will power and courage to move past the self-doubt without fully debunking it. But Nina and I saved a lot of her time and energy by not trying to understand why she had such strong views about seeking assistance and asking questions. We loosened her grip on her story just enough to make room for an experiment. And that’s often what coaching looks like.