Ask yourself this question, for what am I willing to be disturbed? Reflect on the range of answers that surface. In what ways do our assumptions and bias about our role, our contribution and our value to our workplace get in the way of allowing for collaboration over time? My life experience infuses my view of the world and as a result I make meaning of what others say based upon my perspective. It is a habit versus something I choose intentionally and it limits what I can learn from and with others and therefore the quality of the outcomes we produce. Being attached to expertise is not only an enemy of learning it also interferes with invention, improvement, innovation and ease with change. For me to enjoy creative flow, especially working with others in an organization, requires that I break habits based upon my expertise. Training and practicing as a professional coach has been the most valuable and important contribution to development creative flow in my work.
In my field of professional coaching, it is common to hear coaches talk about assumptions and bias as the obstacle to being artful and masterful. Examining this more carefully, I notice that the true obstacle is the habit of overlaying meaning that we are attached to as the one truth. It’s normal to inhabit specific assumption or bias and, to be effective with sustaining excellence it is critical to transcend bias. A leader seeking to generate ease and flow in a world of constant change must learn to seek out others perspective as the way to anticipate and appreciate the influences on the consumer’s experience that are created by the change in the employee experience.
If we are brave to engage a conversation about bias directly we will more consistently encourage, accept, explore and reinforce another person’s expression of feelings, perceptions, concerns, beliefs and suggestions. Doing so sustains our attention on our pattern of relating with each other and therefore the opening to chose a new relationship on purpose. While it is human nature to judge relevance based upon our interior worldview, our training as coaches and frankly, training in leading, includes learning to override our habitual response with curiosity on behalf of another person. Our highest value and contribution occurs by focusing completely on the other person so that he or she understands the meaning expressed by us, in his or her context and not ours. That is what stimulates an idea to be more than interesting and ideally, very actionable in a positive way.
Working with a team-coaching client recently offers an example of the irony of self-knowledge on active listening. The industry this team operates within matches my employment history, always a challenge to self-manage bias! The purpose of the team was to be the approver of new technology tools for the organization in order to sustain the organization’s innovation edge in the market. Everyone felt lots of pressure to choose well, leading to a tension between those more risk-averse and those more risk tolerant. Having worked as a business architect I most definitely had mind chatter filled with assumptions and preferences. However, in the role of coach, my contribution and value is most positive when I sustain focus on revealing the team’s insights and perspectives occurring in the dialogue. Inviting members to notice the focus of attention that is creating breakthrough rather than positional dialogue, supports every member and the team as a whole. Inviting members to consider a broader context has the potential to weave all points of view so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
The minute I allow my preferences to filter my presence in the field, I no longer perceive the “yes, and” possibility. When I sustain my attention on inviting the members to notice and name what is working and support forward progress my positive impact increases. Each time I noticed what I call the Ping-Pong game of positions erupts, the first place I looked was inside of me to be sure I was surrendering my personal bias. Our energy as the team coach is in the field of the members and is often more influential than our words!
Ironically my work is easier and more effective when I choose to disturb my comfortable experience of coaching that often occurs by being familiar with the topic and context. Knowing and not knowing forms a tension of presence. The feeling of tension in my body and heart heightens and sustains my awareness. I am able to perceive something different occurring for a client in our exchange. That difference occurs in many different ways; an emotion, new vocabulary, a breakthrough metaphor or an intense expression not before witnessed that describes a new relationship to the situation for the client. What I seek to experience is something that is outside of what is familiar and holds the possibility for some useful insight or understanding to emerge. When I notice the disturbance and/or disruption of an assumption or bias, this is the moment to invite the client to tap his or her own intuition. Surrendering knowing, the client’s or mine, in favor of openness to what is outside of what is familiar is exactly what stimulates generativity.
The field of neuroscience has opened tremendous pathways for coaches to inform clients about how to succeed with change. Simply stated, our sessions support clients to focus attention on something new, and witness how the brain makes new connections, quickly and profoundly. This is a first step in breaking the habits. Through studies of neuron-plasticity we understand that focused attention plays a critical role in creating physical changes in the brain. With awareness of new connections we gain clarity about possibilities. We then align those possibilities with our beliefs and new actions and results are available for conscious choice. Whether you are a coach, or a coach-centered leader, focusing your attention on co-learning with others will open up creative flow faster than any other method.
Janet Harvey, MCC ,CEO inviteCHANGE, has 30 years of executive and entrepreneurial experience with 12,000+ coaching hours, primarily in organizational and executive leadership engagements.