My first week with an executive coach

The Problem

I had a problem with communication. It’s not that I’m shy; on the contrary I’m often the most garrulous guy in the room. Rather, I felt uncomfortable communicating with someone when I thought doing so would inconvenience them.

It showed up everywhere:

With my directs: I needed employees to cover extra shifts, I’d procrastinate telling them about it.

With my manager: when I needed an answer from them, I’d go to great lengths to try to figure it out on my own, to avoid interrupting their workflow.

Even with friends and significant others: I’d often find myself cancelling on plans last minute — even though I’d known about the schedule conflict for a while — because I hated to let them down.

Naming the Problem / The Magic of Coaching

When I came to John, I’d known about this problem for months but i’d consistently failed to overcome it. I hadn’t even overtly addressed the problem. John’s coaching sessions gave me a platform to do just that: to self-diagnose. And from there, to self-prescribe treatment.

Within minutes of our first session, I had named the problem. “I have communication aversion,” I told him. And it was almost as if it came from someone else: someone who knew me better than I know myself. This was my first “a ha!” moment with coaching. I realized that we often have the answers in us but we don’t have a mechanism for uncovering them. Coaching provides this mechanism.

Talking candidly about my personal limits. Intentionally troubleshooting a personal issue. This is the magic of coaching. Sure you can do it with friends, but if you’re like me and hate inconveniencing others, asking someone to regularly “rubber duck” for you is a nonstarter. With coaching, it’s all about me. No strings attached. John is there to listen for 30 minutes each week.

The Solution

Throughout the session, John’s questions guided me through turning this insidious “communication aversion” into a set of manageable, actionable to-dos.

“Which important conversations are you avoiding?”

“How is this holding you back?”

“What are you going to do this week to overcome this?”

I knew the answers to these questions! But without asking myself those questions, I hadn’t been able to answer or act on them

After that first 30 minute session, I felt empowered to tackle my communication aversion with actionable, short-term goals. I’d made a list of uncomfortable conversations that I needed to have and, one-by-one, I checked them off.

A Retrospective

A week after that conversation, I’d made huge strides in overcoming my communication aversion. And I had gained some incredible insight on the tragic perversity of this issue:

The people I was loathe to inconvenience were actually made worse off by my communication aversion. In fact, my dread for a given conversation was directly proportional to how mismatched our expectations were.

After that week of uncomfortable conversations, I realized that my sense of dread was therefore predictive of how much value I could add through a given conversation. By having a conversation early on, I was able to re-align expectations. Without doing this, the rift would grow wider over time.

The directs whom I needed to work extra shifts? They needed to know ASAP so they could plan around it. The date I needed to reschedule? They’d feel blown off if I waited until the last minute.

Time and time again I saw how these conversations actually made the other person better off. A virtuous cycle began to develop. And my natural dread turned into delight and anticipation for the future benefits of our matched expectations.

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