Recently I was describing my coaching work to someone I had just met—I’ll call him Jim. I explained that I work with executives who feel caught in their corporate title and lifestyle. I help them create a plan for leaving their position for something that is more compelling to them. Jim seemed to be listening to what I said, well at least enough to get the gist of my work, when he quickly interrupted me. He told me that I should work with executives who are still in corporate because they need help to bring more compassion to the workplace. I wholeheartedly agreed with him that the world needs more executives who fully embrace their heart and lead with compassion. And I replied that’s just not my focus—I work with executives who want to exit corporate. But he didn’t stop there. He immediately jumped in and tried to convince me that I could get so much work in the corporate world in New York City. I replied that I was in corporate in New York City for over twenty years and led from a place of compassion. And now I work with people who want to leave that environment. He just wouldn’t give up and then asked about what institutions there are in the local area I could work with. Oh, well.
Make sure that both parties feel heard during a conversation
The conversation was fairly short but it had a big impact on me and in retrospect was fascinating for several reasons. For one, I experienced a great example of someone not listening to me. I had such an intense feeling of not being heard. Jim barely listened to me so the interaction was hardly a conversation—it was more of a situation where two people were speaking simultaneously. I am sure you have had your own experience when someone else didn’t listen to you and just talked over you. Fortunately, I haven’t had that happen much since I left the corporate world. But I do remember that occurring far too often when I was in my executive positions. It is very annoying and disturbing not to be heard by someone, regardless of the context—business or personal. And so this experience served to remind me of the importance of making sure that both parties feel heard during a conversation. Being aware of your conversational impact means being aware of yourself at the same time that you are aware of the other person.
Resist the urge to problem solve when you aren’t asked to problem solve
The second thing that was useful to me about this incident was that I totally understood that Jim was not trying to be annoying, he was simply doing what I suspect he tends to do naturally—problem solve. That’s something that I also have a tendency to do so I understand how easy it is to fall into your own habit of problem solving in conversation. And I know from experience that it is very annoying to have someone problem solve when you haven’t asked them to help you solve a problem. More often you just want the other person to listen. If you explicitly ask someone to help solve your problem, then that’s a different kettle of fish. This interaction was a great reminder to me that when you aren’t asked to solve a problem, just don’t do it.
Don’t agree with disregard for your own truth
The third thing that I learned from this encounter that I really want to highlight is the importance of being true to your own self. I had to work hard in that conversation to stick to what I wanted to say and not just say what Jim wanted to hear. I struggled with how to respond to him. I like to mediate, reconcile and bring together people’s ideas in a collaborative conversational style. And I am a people-pleaser so I generally tend to be positive and agreeable. And after all, I only just met the guy a minute earlier. So for an instant I almost went along with his suggestion for my work. Sure it is the case that my clients, although they are on their way out of corporate, are still in their executive roles when I coach them. So they get exposure to the concept of leading with heart. And my blogs—that are read by many executives—are all about living life fully with compassion and gratitude. Yet Jim made me question my decision to coach clients who want to leave corporate and I felt like I had to defend my choice while we were speaking. Instead, I stood my ground and acknowledged his feeling that corporate coaching is needed and just stated that I coach executives to help them create their awesome next chapter. I stuck to my truth and the importance of my work. I had to repeat it several times and therefore felt pushy and agitated. And yet in the end, I did what I must, and what we must all do—I was true to myself, I spoke openly about what I do and I was honest about who I am.