In a recent session with a middle manager we struck something pretty profound. Now I get paid to listen to people, help them see their motivations, goals, and then support them to get what they want. In this particular case I had gotten some feedback from his team that at times he can be defensive and talk too much. I asked the crew if I could support the leader to look at these things, to which they agreed. After all, potentially making a change in this behavior would reap great energetic rewards for his teammates.
In the session I brought up defensiveness in a general sense and told him that it something most of us need to work on. It’s really hard work actually if you have ever tried to stave off a defensive posture. There is a reason why we are defensive, which I will get to in a minute. He took the bait and we chatted about how his defensiveness showed up. Well lo and behold he brought up over-explaining things to people! Now once I had the big kahuna on the line I just had to reel it in. Most people faced with these situations with others will tell people to stop doing the behavior. But as a coach I want to know what is motivating the over-explaining, or any behavior for that matter. It is easier to give someone a directive. It takes time to sit with someone, give them your full attention to understand what is going on. Sometimes directive leadership is needed, but often coaching is better. When people can see what is going on by stepping back with a trusted person, they can own the behavior and thus what is propelling it.
So I asked this manager why he tends to do this over-explaining behavior. He told me anxiety ‘drives’ the behavior. I found this to be a gem. In my work with triggers I teach people about how ‘negative’ feelings can turn into ‘negative’ behaviors. In this case he isn’t trying to come off as negative or cause a rub with others, he is trying to resolve his anxiety. So I asked him what has him feel anxious. Here I had him drill down a little deeper. He told me that when he feels doubted by others he tends to feel anxiety and thus feel like he has to explain himself ad nauseum to have people think good of his ability to manage. Wow! What a powerful motivator. During this time he also said that when he is addressing his team and there is silence or they seem tuned out or quiet, this anxiety comes up and he starts the motor mouth. With this realization he was able to see the chain of events, which were largely unconscious come to conscious reflection. He actually started to cry a little bit.
I ended up going a bit deeper with him about what is so wrong if people doubt you, what that says about him in the deep dark recess of his mind. Most times these negative beliefs about ourselves are developed by how we were parented. This manager said his upbringing was less-than-stellar, to which we are going to talk about in our next session. Being a coach is being on the fringe of people’s self-concepts, their psychological defense mechanisms. It was a fascinating dive into a person’s soft core, taking the dark place and pulling it out to the light. As a leader you want to engender this type of learning with your mangers and thus giving them the ability to do it to the people they supervise. This takes a negative action and turns it into self-awareness and corrective action, instead of just corrective action in the directive approach. Self-awareness done in the space with others builds trust, morale, and a deeper sense of teamwork. Leaders that put themselves out there like this can transform a team, department or business. Do not underestimate the power of the coaching approach.