“Well I raised a lot of Cain back in my younger days, while Mama used to pray my crops would fail.”
Those opening lyrics from a great old Merle Haggard song paint such a vivid image every time I hear it. And while, I don’t necessarily relate to the theme of those lyrics, I do appreciate the clear and compelling message. I’m a fan of old-school country music – largely because of the story-telling nature of the songs from those artists in that generation. I spent a day in the office a few weeks back listening to several hours of that music in the background while I worked and it got me thinking about how powerful words can be – when crafted intentionally – for conveying a message, or painting a picture.
“She knew the gun was empty, and she knew she could not win…but her final prayer was answered when the rifles fired again”
See there? Willie Nelson sang some pretty descriptive lyrics as well. And that got me thinking about what it means to intentionally craft my words. How do I put together a phrase or sentence that communicates effectively? What goes into the questions or comments I make in a coaching conversation that makes them impactful? How can I sound more like Merle or Willie – not the twang, but the power in their words?
“You know, she came to see him one last time. Aww, and we all wondered if she would and it kept runnin’ through my mind. ‘This time he’s over her for good.’ He stopped loving her today.”
Okay, I promise George Jones’ lyrics will be the last example…but I’m trying to imagine communicating with this kind of power. How would it change my coaching conversations? What insights or awareness might such vivid imagery create for my clients? How do I begin making my words that powerful?
Well, if you have been paying attention, you KNOW I’ve got a couple of ideas to share about this.
There is something deep in us that resists change. We say we want a new congress, but rarely do we vote anyone out. (There are exceptions.) And then, even our new congressional representative has difficulty in changing anything.
This resistance to change certainly makes our job as a coach very difficult, but also gives us a unique opportunity. If we can figure out some secrets to help people change, we will be in high demand.
Timothy Gallwey figured out some secrets. They surprised him. They were counter-intuitive.
If you tell me I am doing it wrong, I will take it personally – as if you are saying You are wrong. And I don’t like that at all, but I won’t say so because you are the coach and I’m supposed to at least pretend that I am willing to do it your way. But underneath my seeming compliance, I will look for subtle ways of resisting.’ – Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Work
Instead of coaching the problem, Gallwey would always coach the person. He would, in his words, eliminate the interference.
I’ll never forget that day. It was during the Thanksgiving season and my oldest son was home from college for the long weekend. I was fairly new to coaching at the time and my relationship with Chuck could be characterized this way: I would tell him what he should do….he wouldn’t do it….and then we would argue about it….about the consequences, about his ignoring his dad’s impressive wisdom…and we would find ourselves at odds over and over again.
On this particular afternoon, Chuck was home from school and telling me about his latest (mis)adventures as part of a fraternity. He was lamenting the fact that it cost more than he had been told, required more time, and made demands that he was finding onerous. I reminded him of conversations we’d had during which I had warned him of these very things. And then Chuck said something that I guess I knew instinctively, but hadn’t ever heard out loud: He said (and I quote), “Well, Dad…just because you tell me something doesn’t mean I’m going to listen to you.”
Yep…he said it just like that. And while I knew this was true, and probably SHOULD be true, it was a profound moment to actually face this truth head on.
Kevin came into the coaching relationship eager for change – deep change that would create new contours in his character and prepare him for something big, bold, and life-altering. I admired his willingness to look deep within himself and the humility behind his openness to not just do things differently but to be someone different. However, as we progressed through the coaching relationship, something unexpected slowly emerged: Kevin needed shallow change.
You see, nothing was wrong or limiting about Kevin’s character. He’s a good man with a deep love for God, a willingness to serve others, and a very high emotional intelligence. It was out of his deep and good character that he embraced the notion that he was the one who needed to change. But while his openness to change himself was admirable, it was off target. He didn’t need to experience change deep in his character, he needed shallow change.
Deep change (aka transformation) comes when a coaching client strives to reach some new goal or realize some way of being only to find that getting somewhere new in life requires becoming someone new. As coaches, we often long for clients who are open to deep change and we strive to be able to facilitate transformation. Transformation comes from a new sense of self, an upgrade of the beliefs that hold the client, and the client’s new understanding of the story he is in and his role in the story. Deep change is change inside the client.
In contrast, shallow change consists of the client changing the things around him, not in him. Shallow change is easier in many ways. It’s all about taking new actions in order to get different results.