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How Coaching Helps Handle Challenges at Work and With Others in Your Life

One of the reasons people come to a coach is because they lose perspective.

As they’re attempting to move forward, particularly into a new realm – new career, new relationship, new living arrangement, they feel challenged, stressed and often forget what worked for them in the past. Or, they think they have to do something new.

Here’s a little story from a supervision session I had with one of my coach clients. She works with her clients to help them with diet and exercise and makes health recommendations about wellness and supplements.

As were talking – it was a phone session – I heard her sniffing and clearing her throat. I interrupted the discussion we were having on the use of paradoxical interventions. [Will explain that in another tip, you’ll love it.]

Sharon: How are you feeling?

Amy: OK.  Just have a bad cold. [I hear her sigh] Annoying

Sharon: That’s crummy.  What are you doing for it?

Amy: Not much

Sharon: Not much?  You’re not taking anything?

Amy: I just got involved in other things and have been so tired.

Sharon: But isn’t that what you do with your clients, make recommendations for things they could use?

Amy: Well, yeah . .

Sharon: So, what might you recommend to one of your clients who had similar symptoms

She’s silent for a minute:

Amy: Well . . . There are a number of things. (She seems to be thinking and then I hear what sounds like opening a cabinet door.)

Amy: Lysine – 4-5000 mg; Vitamin C 2000 mg a few times a day for the first couple of days and then back to 1-2,000 for the duration of the cold; they can also use Olive Leaf; zinc; garlic . . . . drink lots of water.  And of course get plenty of rest.

Sharon: But you’re not doing the same for yourself?

Amy:  Uh . . . I have been drinking tea with lemon and honey…. [She hesitates]  It’s what my mother used to give me. I miss her.  When I was little, I’d get into her bed, she’d bring up a tray with a pretty cup of tea and some toast.  She’d tell me stories, cuddle me . . . She’s so far away now.

Sharon: Hmmmm.  So what have you done in the past as an adult when you’ve gotten a cold
that works for you?

Amy: [Laughing ]. I do really well with Lysine and Zinc and a garlic extract called Allicin.

Sharon: Do you have any?

Amy: Mmm hmmm.

Sharon: So . . .

Amy: Right?  OK.  I’ll get on my routine.  Thanks.

The next time we spoke and she reported she was feeling a lot better, I asked her a little more about how she reacted to her cold challenge. I wanted to know what tripped her up in following her own advice.

What she said was interesting

Amy: I hate getting sick.  When I do I feel like I let down my clients by being a bad role model. It’s actually kind of depressing. I’m not supposed to get sick.  Made me feel down and then I didn’t feel motivated to do anything.  It’s good we talked and you reminded me of what I know.  When I’m disappointed in myself, I tend not to take the best care of myself, even though I tell my clients how important it is to treat themselves well when they don’t feel well.

Sharon: How might you intervene with yourself when that happens.

Amy:I guess the first thing is be aware that I’m feeling blue.  Then I have a choice. Take better care of myself or just feel bad. I can remind myself of my favorite remedies, and make sure I have some on hand and prescribe caring to myself as if I were my own client.

Sharon: Good!  And maybe call Mom and get some virtual Tea, honey and Lemon over the phone?

Amy: [giggles] Yes.  That would be great.  I hate to tell her I don’t feel well, because she worries. But it would really help to get some special Mom TLC.

There’s considerable research on how challenges create stress and stress impairs our ability to know what we know.

Under stress, our brains and body are hard wired to react to the emotional aspects of the situation.  It’s part of the fight or flight instinct.  We can’t as readily consider the facts.

That’s why it’s important to remind ourselves that we do have internal resources that have worked in the past; to open our mental cabinet, see the choices we’ve previously used well, and consider which of those to call into action.

In addition, what worked with one challenge might have relevance for another. Think about the example above with Amy.  Another challenge she might have is in a relationship with a colleague at work.

There was a misunderstanding. Amy’s feelings are hurt.  She’s been thrown into an emotional field that makes it hard for her to remember how she and her colleague work well together.

She needs to stop, acknowledge to herself that she’s upset and stressed and then remind herself of what’s worked positively with with her coworker in the past. It would also be helpful to consider what created the uncomfortable communication.

What happened that led to the upset?

How might she avoid that in the future, creating a better work space for both of them?

Key takeaways:

  • Under challenge we experience stress which makes it hard to focus on the facts.
  • Take the time to remind yourself of what’s worked previously.
  • Which steps can you borrow from your previous successes and apply to this situation?
  • Assess the triggers that precipitated the challenge and consider how you might avoid them moving forward.

Make sense?

Next tip coming tomorrow

Thinking about getting certified as a Professional Coach? Want to talk about it? Or any questions you have about professional coaching? Let’s talk and see whether or not it makes sense for you to become a certified professional coach.

Click below

To Learn About Our Upcoming Fast Track Certification Workshop This March in New York City

The cost of $75 for the 30 minute consultation can be applied to the TLC Professional Coach Training program if you decide to join.Warmest regards,

Sharon 🙂

Dr. Sharon Livingston

Best Practices Body Language Culture Health and Wellness Human Resources Management Women In Business

What to do When Whatever Can Happen Suddenly Does and Tries to Destroy Your Meeting – Part 2

You’ve just been attacked verbally by a super-irate member of your meeting.  Your heart is pounding.  Your eyes are wide.  The rest of the group is focused on you for help.  What the heck?!  Who signed me up for this???!!!!

Here’s one technique to feel more centered and apart from your own emotional reactions when aggression is expressed.  Experience yourself observing while simultaneously leading.  You can take an emotional step back from involvement in the group by imagining that you’re watching a movie; the story is unfolding before your eyes and you can watch and think about the characters, the plot and the implications from a slightly removed vantage point. We thereby spare ourselves the stress and high emotions that can distort perceptions of the findings as well as jeopardize our ability to lead.

By the way, in marketing research focus groups, this is excellent advice for the observers in the backroom. As we’ve all experienced, it’s often difficult for clients to hear negative and emotionally charged feedback about their brain children. And, who could blame them? Their jobs are on the line.  Their self-esteem about their own creative process which brought the test ideas into being are being challenged and shot down in a moment, while they may have spent months or even years coming to the point where they are brave enough to expose them to their audiences. It’s natural that clients are likely to take any attacks on their products and advertising personally making it difficult to listen with an open mind.

It is therefore a wise idea for clients to have the safety of the movie metaphor. And it works well with the focus group set up. Watching the “movie” through the glass is a logical extension of the physical environment.  The window is like a large screen. The seats are lined up in tiers. It’s dark like a movie theatre. Many facilities even serve popcorn to encourage the sense of more passive viewing and listening.

However, it’s a totally different situation in the front room as the leader. The facilitator might pretend that she/he is the focusing lens of the camera, but… the problem occurs when the monster in the movie slowly turns its head, catches the camera’s eye and focuses his fury right into the audience’s face. We all know how frightening that is when that character seems to come off the big screen and become aware of you as viewer.  Our safe seat in the auditorium is now confronted by the scary beast. An icy chill streaks up our spine. Our hearts begin to race. Our eyes widen. Some will utter a frightened, HUH!! If the change
in the monster’s demeanor and attention comes out of the blue, the intensity of our reactions is greater.

Imagine how much worse that is when an angry group member captures the moderator’s eye and blasts him/her with a tirade of emotion intended for God knows what, his boss,  his father/mother, or anyone else who has made them angry. While we can sit safely in the movie theatre just having our momentary feeling of fright, in the leader’s seat we must have strategies in place for dealing with these people.

Art Shulman, a friend of mine who has attended our training and learned about our Snow White Theory for dealing with the various types of characters in the group, wrote a comic tongue-in-cheek account of his version of The Hulk appearing in one of his sessions.

Here’s a synopsis and a small excerpt.  Thank you Art!:

Apparently, an already transformed, surly, Hulk-like look-a-like known as “Beast” presented himself in one of Art’s groups (or perhaps hypothetical groups). In the go round he growled and snarled at the group and at Art.  Art, silently, but frantically tried to recall all of the interventions he had learned to employ in dealing with difficult people. He jokingly reflects to himself things like:

  • Slip him a Mickey?
  • Pull out a can of Mace?
  • Use the ejector seat?

Then he tells us that he remembered the seating position behavior he learned about for working with difficult respondents. He invites Beast, AKA Grumpy or Hulk who is sitting in the confrontational, counter-leadership position at the end of the table to switch seats with Happy who is sitting in the compliant seat to the leader’s immediate right. He correctly explains that the chair opposite the leader is likely to be taken by a provoking, challenging character. One way to change behavior is to literally change the person’s seat.

In Art’s Group Thriller, he has this Grumpy Beast switch his seat with Happy, the character most likely to support the leader. Then Art announced to the group that the topic of the session was Christmas stockings, where upon our Grumpy Hulk uttered a thunderous rumbling sound like that of a volcano about to erupt, turned to him and the people in the backroom, and in growing ferocity picked up a chair and flung it at the mirror.

Once our imaginary respondent, Beast, released the pent up frustration that had been growing to a breaking point, he was able to express the softer feelings and reasons why.

In Art’s words:

“Then, as we all looked on, Beast sat back down and became tearful,. .’Every December I apply for jobs as Santa Claus. But I’m always rejected once they find out I’m a professional wrestler’

For the rest of the session he was a pussycat, making all sorts of  useful suggestions to increase sales of my client’s product”

* * *

With just a little luck, nothing this extreme will ever happen to you when you’re leading a group or meeting. Yet there is that nagging old Murphy reminding us that anything can and will. The sheer knowledge of this possibility, no matter how rare, keeps us needing to have an approach to handle the most difficult respondents even though most groups are comprised of amiable, cooperative people.

An important intervention for your consideration:

I would like to suggest a little tactic to have in your back pocket that you can rely on if Murphy and The Hulk show up in your meeting and scare you with a roar and the mighty muscle that looks like he can back it up.  It is a very simple technique that diffuses the raw emotion of this grumpy person. And remember, all of us have the capacity for being quite grumpy at times, when provoked.

The unexpected outburst starts. Allow the participant to vent and finish his/her little tirade. You will be feeling the attack and so will the rest of the group. If you are like most people when confronted with such a strong assault your heart is racing and you probably feel a little frightened yourself not unlike the shock I felt when the computer came crashing down on my head out of seemingly nowhere.

Remind yourself to take a breath. It will be over soon.

You can give yourself time to think and recover from your pounding heart and dazed feeling AND at the same time, help this angry person calm down by saying: “I am sorry could you repeat that…I want to be sure I really understood what you said.”

While it may sound counter intuitive to invite this furious fomentation to be unleashed yet again, it actually has the reverse effect.  It is at once both an extraordinarily simple AND extraordinarily powerful intervention.

Here’s why:

– Asking the person to repeat what was just expressed protects you from attempting to engage in a rational conversation with an irrational person (which is kind of like
trying to get your dog to teach you Calculus … you’ll just irritate him and get him to bark louder).

Our job is to keep the group communication constructive, reasonably logical and goal oriented (despite any needs to recognize emotional motivation.) The overly aggressive attacker is not able to contribute to this in their initial state of anger.

– Second, the meaning and intent of the overly aggressive  communication is usually quite clouded by the intensity of his adrenalin. It’s hard to decipher the meaning and
implications out from underneath the intensity of his emotional outburst.

The tone of your voice should communicate genuine interest in hearing the meaning of his/her words. You are asking so that you can help this person better articulate what they are thinking.

Like the Hulk who requires a build up of energy to fuel his fiery temper, the aggressive participant’s raw emotion has been spent. It will take time, energy and a sense of annoyance and irritation to rebuild for there to be another volcanic eruption.  When the participant repeats what was originally spat out in a rage, he/she will now express it far more calmly with far less feeling and agitation. This will give you an opportunity to:

* Recuperate, calm down, collect your thoughts and think of your next question

* Invite the group to react to the content of his message rather than the inappropriate emotion.

Then, in order to further help Grumpy respond in a way which will help him be more cooperative, ask “object oriented[4], easy questions with regard to the content. Examples would be:

– When did this happen?
– Where were you?
– How did you get there?
– Who was there?

People calm down when given the opportunity to answer simple factual question which have definite answers, having nothing to do with their opinions. (The reason is, opinions reside INSIDE a person’s head … they are ideas one has to ‘defend’, whereas facts are things that are usually more objectively verifiable, thus carrying less of a need for personal

In contrast, asking a very upset person “why?” (to which they may or may not know the answer, and which certainly puts them on the spot to defend their position) may create more anxiety and refuel their upset.

You might also, (at some point after the problem person has re-verbalized their aggression and been helped to calm down with these simple factual questions), acknowledge the problem or concern he has, then repeat it to the person to make sure you (and the rest
of the group) understands the issue.

What works about this approach?

You demonstrated that you have respect for her/him [as well as the others in the group] by accepting his reaction and wanting to hear more.

You remained apparently calm and avoided counter attacking and dismissing him. (That’s hard to do when someone is attacking you. During an aggressive confrontation, it’s natural to want to fight fire with fire.)

You indicated interest in finding out what he is really thinking and validated him by letting him know that you believe there is an important message beyond the fireworks.

You treated the issue as important to her/him, even though it might not be so for others, showing your interest in his and everyone’s reactions.

You demonstrated acceptance of his feelings to make it possible for him to talk without having to use intense emotional outbursts to get your attention.

You used the window of calm after the storm to reestablish your leadership in the group and take control

At the same time, you gave the other group members a moment to catch their breath too and calm down from the onslaught so you could all return to the task at hand.

Incidentally, Art was right about seating position. It’s much easier for an angry meeting participant to assert dominance and attempt to steal the floor if they can make eye contact with the leader. Acknowledging via eye contact invites the other to talk and interact. [You know how they
say to avoid eye contact with a crazy looking person when you’re walking the streets of Manhattan.] So either change his seat or change the balance of power by getting up, moving around the room and making it difficult for him/her to look you in the eye until this person has demonstrated that she/he can be cooperative.

When all else fails, from another fairy tale, keep a pitcher of water handy to melt the wicked witch. [Just kidding of course, but it’s only fair to note that Super-Grumpies come in both genders].

And remember, Murphy’s law is very unlikely to come to pass. Most meetings are comprised of people who want to be there and share their ideas rather than hitting you on the head with a heavy metal black box.

Hmmmm.  Maybe Dennis the flight attendant was the Incredible Hulk?

Wishing you great meetings!

Want to learn more about leading groups?  Contact me http://www.DrSharonLivingsto.com to find out about our upcoming training sessions or email me directly at DrSharonLivingston@gmail.com

[1] Wasn’t sure if he was just annoyed with me for invading his space or if he saw my strange behavior as a function of menopausal madness.  If he had only known the secrets for assuaging potentially aggressive reactions, we might have had a pleasant flight..

[2] After sharing my experience with other QRC’s I heard a story that topped this one.  A moderator was sitting in First Class.  During take off, a bottle of wine flew out of the galley, hit her in the head and knocked her unconscious!  We really have a high risk occupation, friends.

[3]  Grumpy is an icon for one of the 7 characters that show up in any group. Anyone unfamiliar with my metaphor that respondents in a focus group tend to assume the role of one of the seven dwarves from the classic 1800’s tale can visit http://www.snowwhitetheory.com/ for a description of all the postures people take in a group meeting and suggestions for how to handle them

[4] An object oriented question is just a factual question that has an easily identifiable right answer. An opinion might be judged, making the respondent anxious, but factual queries are experienced as safe.


Best Practices Body Language Culture Health and Wellness Human Resources Management Marketing Skills Women In Business

Please Pass The Puppy

Up until a couple of years ago, anyone who knew me fairly well, knew that I had a wonderful little mascot, Stewie the Shih Tzu. We’d been hanging out together for 13 years and he accompanied me to many places: to work every day when I was in my home office, on the road whenever I could, to my hairdresser, and he sat on my lap in the dentist office.

What you may not know is that Stewie has participated in a number of marketing research, training and creativity events.

It started when he was a two month old puppy. At that time, I had a facility on Long Island. My partner and I were running a creativity session with a pharma company and it’s agency. There were 16 people sitting around the table for many hours, coming up with new ideas for several categories of products. Since Stewie was still so little, I brought him along.  After getting permission from the group, we set up a make shift puppy playpen in the corner just behind my chair.

Not surprisingly, early in the session Stewie started whining a little, so I picked him up and held him in one hand while I continued conducting with my pen in the other.  [Later one of the participants told me that Stewie’s little head kept bobbing up and down following the pen as it drew invisible lines and circles, mirroring the movements of my improvised baton.  Can you tell this puppy was my child?!  I thought everything he did was adorable.]

This was a fairly typical brainstorming session – the group was charged with identifying areas we wanted to develop, getting spontaneous downloads of ideas, using creative excursions to move away from the problem at hand to make new associations, generating possible ideas from the new input and then doing it all over again.  While much of the time was spent in spontaneous talk mode, there was some head down writing involving focused concentration.

For some people that part is tense.  At one point during a writing exercise, a woman lifted her head, turned to me, arm extended and commanded, “Please pass the puppy”  — which of course I did without a blink.  Stewie continued to travel around the room at various times throughout the day providing comedic and warm fuzzy relief when people needed a break or wanted to lessen stress.

Stewie continued his apprenticeship over the years, listening in while providing licks and entertainment to my clients.  Most of the people I work with were thrilled to have him attend and several actually requested him. Why? Because he brought “love” and innocence into the session. He’s spontaneously silly, engaging in hilarious antics that are entertaining. He cuddled, invited petting and patting, gave licks, asked for what he wanted, and was genuinely and obviously appreciative of any attention given to him.

One of my clients, James, loved to have Stewie along. In addition to just enjoying Stewie’s presence and clowning around, he also relished the opportunity to take the pup “out for a walk” – a euphemism for grabbing a smoke.

On one occasion, we were conducting a series of one-on-ones with MD’s on a set of concepts for a new medication.  It was suburban Philly.  We were interviewing 15 docs per market. After interview #10, James said, “Hey, I have an idea. We pretty much know how we’re doing here. [This was the final of three markets.] What would you think of bringing Stewie into the front room to see what happens.  It would be research on research!”

I asked if he was sure he wanted to take the chance of forfeiting the interview results, and he replied with an enthusiastic “YES!”  So, I greeted the psychiatrist in the waiting room and told him that I had my dog with me.  How did he feel about dogs? How might he feel about allowing the dog into the interview room?  The doctor said it was fine with him.

Imagine the set up. My back is to the mirror.  The doctor is facing the mirror.  I have two tables set up in an L with stacks of materials as well as discarded papers in a pile under the table ready to be shredded.  We start the interview with the purpose of the talk and an introduction of the doctor; medications he currently writes for his patients, etc.

Then we switched to concept exposure.

Stewie started out laying at my feet.  That lasted for about 10 minutes before he started exploring.  The first thing he found was the pile of papers on the floor. Stewie saw an opportunity to earn his keep and started aggressively shredding the paper. Meanwhile the doctor continued to talk as if oblivious to the noise and distraction, while I’m thinking to myself, “oh well, I guess this isn’t going to work.”

I picked up Stewie and got him to settle down on my lap while we progressed in the interview, showing more ideas for the doctor’s feedback. I don’t know what you know about Shih Tzu’s, but because of their short snouts, they have a propensity to snort and snore. In fact Stewie can snore louder than my Grandmother who was queen of sawing wood, honking and whinnying while she slept.

Internally, my virtual eyes were rolling, but I stayed with the process, asking questions, probing, clarifying, moving onto the next set until we finished. Surprisingly, after a couple of giggles of acknowledgement of Stewie’s off key concerto, we got through the entire interview covering all the materials.

As were winding down, I asked the doctor what it was like to have the pup in the room. His answer was very interesting. He said that he’d done interviews before and that even though he knew he was being asked for his honest response, he generally found himself trying to give the answers he imagined the interviewer wanted to hear. But this was different. He allowed himself to be authentic and say what was really on his mind.

In classic interviewer style, I said, “interesting, what might have contributed to the difference in your response.”

He said there were two things. Having the dog in the room gave him the sense that his own playfulness and creativity were encouraged. To him this translated to allowing himself to be relaxed and open. In addition, my accepting of Stewie without punishing his behaviors said that I would be accepting of whatever he had to say. The result was he was comfortable taking the risk of telling me how he really felt about the product concepts.

James, who had been laughing his head off in the backroom, sobered up and took notice. James was in charge of the internal research training program. His company holds a bi-monthly Lunch and Learn event that is offered to all in the research department of his company. The doctor’s reaction was so intriguing, that he actually wrote it up and distributed it to the VP of Research as well as his peers for future consideration.

There is a dynamic relationship between people and animals. Each influences both the physiological and psychological state of the other. In the presence of animals, people seem healthier and happier and actually experience improved health benefits: lower blood pressure, less anxiety and a general sense of feeling good about themselves. In fact, pets can add to longevity. Grieving elderly widows and widowers left with pets survive years longer than their counterparts without pets.

Animals are a natural source of genuine affection. They create an emotionally safe, non-threatening environment that can encourage people to open up. In the presence of friendly pets, people relax and calm down. They forget about their worries, loneliness, sadness, pain and fear. They laugh and feel moments of unselfconscious joy.

Did you know that 20% of American businesses allow their staff to bring companion animals along with them to work?

The value of a cute pup or pet in work situations has been researched. Results of a survey sponsored by The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association indicated positive outcomes as a result of bringing pets to work.

Participants agreed that bringing their pets to work led to:

  • An increased willingness to work longer
  • A decrease in absenteeism
  • Improved relationships with co-workers
  • An environment that fosters creativity
  • Higher productivity

So, do you have a pet that might like to give back? Maybe become an assistant researcher or facilitator?  Just be sure to protect anyone who might have fear of fur and get their permission before introducing your pup.

To learn more interesting tips on making work less like work and encouraging employee engagement click http://www.future-proof-your-career.com

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