derbox home1

COACHING for EQ Leadership - A Curious Solution

By Mimi Frenette, Six Seconds

Bill's meeting was preceding smoothly -- a critical discussion of sales team logistics -- when Peter just "popped in." Peter is slightly senior to Bill, but in a different department.
"You just need to refocus your marketing strategy," declared Peter, sharing a "jewel of wisdom" from out of the blue.

"Here we go again," thought Bill, as he saw the discussion heading off into a tangent.

An hour later, Bill walked away from a wasted meeting blaming Peter for sabotaging him -- again -- and ready to go to battle. Fortunately, we had a coaching call scheduled, so Bill brought up the issue as an opportunity for learning.

One goal of teaching emotional intelligence is to help people break the deeply ingrained habits they have developed throughout their lives. This is a demanding and ongoing process, and it requires a willingness to hit the pause button and become curious about why you or others are behaving as they are, instead of jumping to a conclusion.
To help Bill formulate an optimal response to Peter, the first step was for Bill to break out of his own patterns of thinking and assumptions. Earlier in our coaching process we had discussed the metaphor of the iceberg - how the tip of the iceberg is the behavior, and beneath the surface are the emotional drivers that generate the behavior. The key to emotional intelligence is "seeing beneath the surface" to understand these emotional drivers.

Curiosity is the most powerful tool for diving into this discovery, and my job as a coach is to be so curious that the client gets curious too. So Bill and I discussed Peter as a puzzle. What was Peter accomplishing by interrupting these meetings? What need of his was being met by walking in and giving his input to people who were not even part of his team? What was Peter feeling? What was he wanting and needing?

Bill decided that what Peter truly was looking for was recognition. Peter was new in his role, a little outside his comfort zone, without the support of a solid team, and feeling vulnerable. The attention Peter got in these meetings seemed to really light him up. Recognizing these drivers, Bill began to formulate a plan to deal not only with the tactical problem, but the underlying emotional interaction.

One benefit of genuine curiosity is that it opens up empathy. As Bill challenged himself to understand Peter more fully, he began to relate to Peter on an emotional level. Not only did he see Peter's behavior more clearly, Bill began to acknowledge and relate to Peter's feelings. Bill could certainly relate to Peter's feelings having been "the new guy on the block" plenty of times before.

With this perspective, Bill made a simple plan: He decided to preempt Peter by stopping in his office before the next meeting and asking him if he had any input on the agenda. He was genuinely curious about his colleague's opinion, listened well, and thanked him for his input. Peter did not show up at the next meeting, or subsequent meetings, for that matter. Bill continued to run things by Peter from time to time and their professional relationship deepened.

Thoughts, Feelings, and Actions

In EQ coaching we help clients become more aware of thinking, feeling and acting. We look at the way the thoughts, feelings, and actions are linked -- how each influences the other. Where other models of understanding human behavior focus on the thinking, we recognize that thoughts, feelings, and actions are interrelated and that at a core level, emotions are what drive people.

This approach can be used to understand yourself or another person. It's often easiest to start with identifying the action. Bill said the action was his colleague's behavior: interrupting meetings.

Next, Bill considered what feelings might lead to that particular behavior. Here, Bill suspected that the feelings Peter had were insecurity and a lack of respect.
Finally, I asked Bill what thoughts might be tied to that feeling. Bill surmised that perhaps Peter was thinking along the lines of: "If I add value to their meeting then they will respect me."

By reflecting at this level, Bill was able to understand Peter's needs more clearly. Peter was trying to satisfy a need -- but he was using a dysfunctional strategy. By meeting Peter's needs another way, Bill made the dysfunctional behavior unnecessary, and Peter changed.

By looking at the situation from this core level, Bill and Peter got an additional benefit. Bill's new understanding quite naturally led him to another important EQ competency: empathy. By investing some energy into discovering what someone else might be experiencing, Bill expanded his self-awareness, used that to create a strategy to solve his problem effectively, and did so in a way that supported both of them to be successful.

Remember: By looking at the world beneath the tip of the iceberg, you come to understand the drivers of behavior, not just the behavior itself. Yes, it's an extra effort, but it yields a huge payoff in terms of creating a positive connection and climate in your organization.

REFERENCE: Frenette, M. (2007). EQ Leadership: A Curious Solution. Six Seconds Press (in press).