Some time ago, I remember feeling quite tired just before I was to head into a two-hour virtual coaching session with someone I hadn’t yet met. Warning bells went off, and I prepared to manage my energy. The moment we met, however, it all changed. I encountered such an energetic and positive person that I felt the fatigue leave my body, replaced by oodles of energy! I thanked her for her contagious enthusiasm, and we dove into the discussion.
Debriefing the results of a rich and complex personality assessment that she had recently completed, our job was to collect a list of strengths and development areas as they related to the challenging position she’d just taken on. My role was to help her interpret her scores, and in particular to make the less-than-obvious connections. Like many assessment debriefs, I had to do a fair amount of talking. Her strengths included enthusiasm (indeed!), speaking her mind, positivity, curiosity, proactively taking the lead, and interpersonal relationship management.
Soon enough, I began to notice a pattern.
Each time that we started to speak simultaneously (and that happened a lot), she would keep speaking ‘over me’. I found myself backing down each time, even though I believed that I had something of value to offer. I also tried several times (unsuccessfully) to keep talking until she would ‘back down’. I became curious about this repeated behavior and started to make mental notes of how it was making me feel: impressed yet annoyed, not valued, and frustrated because part of my job was to share my analysis and interpretation.
As we combed through her assessment results, we eventually uncovered a potential development area around pushing one’s own views over others. My lightbulb went on, and I realized that this behavior had played out right in front of me, over and over!
“May I share something with you?”
“I’ve been noticing that each time we start speaking at the same moment, you continue speaking, and I back down. I’ve been experimenting with continuing to speak longer (which is not my nature), and you continue talking, with a somewhat louder voice.”
“If I check in with myself, I realize that I stop listening and start turning my thoughts toward how to manage time, vacillating between, ‘Do I push, or just give in?’”
Both of us digested the moment.
I continued, “I’m sharing this with you because I’m wondering whether it happens elsewhere. And if so, whether others stop listening, as well.”
She replied, “I’m not sure if I recognize this.”
I was on rocky ground. I sat there in silence to give it some time.
Finally, she said, "Well, it could be happening, when I am particularly enthusiastic about something, as I have been enthusiastic in this exchange. I’ll keep this in mind.”
“Perhaps you’ve just identified your ‘alarm bell’ – when you are feeling really enthusiastic.”
“Yes, that makes perfect sense. Actually, that’s quite helpful.”
“How might your strength of curiosity fit in here?”
“Oh, that’s a good one. I don’t think I’m making use of it when I behave like this. If I could get myself curious about what others are trying to say (especially in those enthusiastic moments), I might be able to mitigate this.”
A few days later, I received an email from her thanking me for the session and this discovery in particular.
Coaches, I am offering three takeaways coming from my own learnings during this session:
- If we stay in touch with how we are feeling and experiencing the encounter, we just might be able to offer some feedback of value.
- Using a strength (in this case, enthusiasm) without intention or with a less productive intention may lead to less than ideal behaviors.
- When discussing a development area, we can remind our coachees of the strengths they have (in this case, curiosity) that can help them improve.