“I’ll never be as great as my boss” ; “I’m always too busy for my children” ; “Wish I had his creativity and tenacity to pursue my own dreams” ; “I’ve always been big-boned even as a child” ; “My parents didn’t have the money otherwise I would be a doctor today” ; “If only my spouse / children / family …. and I would be happy” ; “Yeah, it’s fate” ; “When I migrate to…. then I can….” ; “I love my job!”
Let’s look at the narratives we tell ourselves. These statements have multiple layers of our inner most models, identity, values, and beliefs. The stories that we tell ourselves, indirectly craft our present and our future, and possess more power in affirming our destiny than we know. It’s just like the story of the little red engine that could… So, how can we as coaches, unearth the hidden prowess of these one-liners to enable and empower our clients to greater awareness, insights and naturally, success?
One interesting way is through the Dilt’s Pyramid of Neurological Levels that offer an approach to peel the layers of the client. Robert Dilt expanded the works of the anthropologist Bateson’s four levels of mechanism of learning and change, citing that each level would radiate and affect one another, providing insights to new levels of awareness of filters, and thus making change more sustainable, realistic and inspired.
When we understand and are able to pinpoint intrinsically how we are programmed, and what affects our programs, we can implement actions for change that really matter, and less superficial. Hmmm… change the model of your world, then change you! (Bear with me for a moment, while I put this heroic task on ourselves!)
What we typically see are the direct impact and easily observable levels which are the environment and behaviour aspects of neurological levels manifested.
E.g. an angry behaviour in a high stakes meeting (that show above the waterline like the tip of the iceberg – behaviour and environment) can bring about many assumptions and theories of that person (that are hidden below the waterline and forms the bigger part of the iceberg) in particular without truly knowing that person.
- He is upset that the report is not up to his expectations or he is angry because he failed to see an important risk (which could highlight competencies)
- She is always known as a tough and a no-nonsense director even with her team because she is a talent and a future CFO (motives & attitudes)
- He believes that this culture is too forgiving compared to his origin and that’s why the company is failing (values & beliefs)
- She is known to be the Tiger in the Boardroom (identity)
- I need to show that I am upset, because that is how these group will take me seriously. Only strong, aggressive personas can be great CEOs in this industry. (model of the world)
Hence, if a coach were to deep dive into unchartered, icy waters, all these levels will be revealed, clarified and challenged to gain sustainable action points. Some levels may pose different levels of difficulties for different clients, and as a coach, we have to be sensitive to where the pauses and struggles lie sans our own filters and levels.
So, in this case, by changing the model of the world of this client who had an anger outburst in a high stakes meeting, the client will be able to discover and reprogram the different levels, and eventually leading to a calm, calculated behaviour in the meeting.
What if it was a ‘simpler’ statement? “Yeah, it’s fate that I didn’t get that promotion even though I worked hard this year in this new place”. What powerful questions we can ask to spark some challenge to the client?
My key take-away from this session is to always be sensitive and alert to the punctuations, and statements that a client shares. As we have developed a conducive relationship of trust and safety, the coach could be challenged to look out for fleeting statements that may not link directly to the coaching plan or journey as agreed upon. These are clues that lead to deeper analysis of the client, and could be the key for unlocking the code of coaching the client.
Another take-away is to provide a good balance of support and challenge for the client by understanding their neurological levels of their actions for stretched actions that could lead the client out of their comfort zone.
Lastly, the deeper the neurological levels for change are, I believe it will need more time and focus to change. Often that shift will be tough, however, when it happens, it will be transformational. For example, a client that wants to lose a couple of pounds for that summer bikini will probably yo-yo back (or more) to square one once summer is over, however, a clients that is seeking a healthier, nutritious eating habits for energy, focus will take more focus, hardwork, and reap more benefits. Nevertheless, there is no right or wrong, just what fits the client and if we are able to challenge the client to their best potential.
After all, a coach is meant to unlock a person’s potential to maximize their own performance.