Season 1, Episode 5
Coaching with compassion and its role in helping people change
Marie [00:00:00] As leaders or managers, a big part of the job is coaching others and helping people to change. Today, we’re joined by distinguished university professor of Case Western Reserve University, Richard Boyatzis. We discuss the difference between coaching with compassion versus coaching for compliance and why only the former can ensure learning and growth. Richard has written over 150 articles on leadership and more recently he co-authored the book Helping People Change so there is no one better to have on the show to talk about this very important topic. Welcome to Emotional Intelligence at Work brought to you by Genos International. Hi again, Ben, and welcome, Richard.
Speaker 2 [00:00:50] Great to be here with you. Thank you.
Speaker 3 [00:00:52] Thank you, Marie.
Marie [00:00:53] Okay, let’s start with a practical example of coaching with compassion. Let’s assume I’m a leader demonstrating low emotional intelligence. I’ve gone through a 360-degree measure with a coach or someone in HR and I’m soon to be informed that I have not scored well. I’m already feeling quite stressed and anxious, how does a person delivering these results do so with compassion?
Richard [00:01:16] Let me use an analogy to start, if you have a spouse or partner or your second or third spouse or partner, if you’re a parent, the same issues are going on, the same dynamics, so how well does it work when you approach your spouse or partner trying to fix them?
Ben [00:01:36] Well, mine’s a good test every day of this kind of stuff.
Richard [00:01:39] Yes and the same thing with parenting, you know, especially, you know, from that age of 10 when they stop liking you to, you know, kind of rolling their eyes when you say things till they’re 25 or 30, when they decide when you might have some merit but few of us would continue to think that we could do that kind of parenting or spousal or partner behaviour without having severe consequences. And yet we look at work relationships and somehow we think it’s okay to act that way or any helping relationship, physician, nurse, teacher, therapist, cleric, so, yes, I mean, this applies to coaches or trainers but it applies to any of our helping relationships. And this is the key that most of the time we are in such a rush and we are so focussed on the end result, especially in businesses, you know and the end result, why are we so focussed on it? Well, we’ve got some executives who went to a training programme and came back and said, yes, we need more metrics, we need a dashboard because that will motivate people, like hell it will. The research data says the opposite and it has been for the past 25, 30 years. So when you go in and try to fix somebody, how does it feel, how does it feel when your in-laws tell you how you should dress your kids? It feels about the same way when you get a managerial review, performance review and your boss comes to that last part to say, okay, what should you do differently next year? You know and what you’re doing is sorry for the listening audience, I’m putting my fingers in my ears. You’re sitting there nodding your head with your fingers and you’re saying, oh, thank you. Thank you, I’ve been waiting for this advice my whole life. So the problem is that most of the time when we are trying to help someone with good intentions, maybe but typically I’ll grant that the person receiving it feels like they’re in the presence of a helping bully. And it’s a form of aggression and the person who’s doing it says, yes, but, you know, we have to get to our objectives. Is this the best way? So all of a sudden, our pressure to get to certain specifics, our pressure of time and the fact that most people are in management positions, who don’t want to be, they really don’t enjoy leading and managing others, they want to do the stuff themselves. You put all that together and what happens is we treat people like instruments. We treat them like human resources. You know, when come on, none of us really like that, it’s not like you’re going to show up at work tomorrow morning, well, if you could show up at work physically, but, you know, you’d show up at work and say, okay, folks, here I am, I’m a human resource, allocate my assets. You know, we just don’t do that. So the problem is that’s what we decided to call coaching for compliance, which means the real intent is to get you to do what I want you to do, not what you want to do. And back in 2002 or 2003, Melvin Smith and I started working with the fact that it actually started talking about how to help people in leadership or executive positions renew themselves physiologically. And we said the leaders should be using this other approach, which we started to call coaching with compassion because it focussed on the other person and it focussed on caring for them, their values, their dream. When you talk about a specific objective, you move the person’s brain in literally in thousandths of a second into a network that it’s called the instrumental network that’s closely aligned with the analytic network, the task positive network. And that network gets you focussed, so you put blinders on, you’re focussing and that’s why you could get something done, but in the process, you’re missing everything else going on and you stop paying attention to people. And it just dawned on us that while objectives can help you focus, they’re not good for the opening, you know, kind of the first six months of this kind of helping relationships.
Ben [00:06:30] Let me talk about how things are out there at the moment. I find that the recipient of these 360-degree feedbacks is primed for you to come in and be task-focussed with them. You know, after reading your book and really stepping back and I’ve been trying to come into these sessions and be much more relational and just have conversation and get to that kind of vision. And what you find is some people are actually frustrated with the length of time that you’re taking to warm the conversation. You know, like they are come on, aren’t you going to take me through my results and tell me where and what I need to do? You know, there’s a lot of conditioning up there.
Richard [00:07:11] Oh, come on, I mean, let me use an extreme example but, you know, we’re all used to having our bosses or our masters deal with whips and chains, I mean, it’s hyperbole, obviously we’re not. But the fact is that we’re socialised to be defensive. Why, because people dump on us all the time. So the problem is that because we’re used to doing that, people look at any assessment and immediately go for the, you know, what’s the bad thing and this silly sandwich models say something positive and something negative, then something positive that’s stupid. Everybody just waits for the negative. So this is so bad that when we started trying to train people about this in 2000, we started these workshops around, I’d been doing these things on emotional intelligence, we started them doing them for executives in our second operation. And I wanted to focus on coaching or helping others with this. So we’d set up these role plays I had three that came out of exact experiences that I had with executives, different kind of 360 profiles. I’d say spend three or four hours introducing people to all these concepts, why it’s important, psychophysiology of it all, why it’s important to go towards the positive emotional attractor, okay, three or four hours, I’d give them, I’d put them in trios, I’d give them the, you know, the client person had their profile. I give the data, 360, to the coach and I’d say, okay, coach them, you know, with an observer. And immediately they went to the weaknesses, they went to the gaps. I had said, spend your time talking about why is it that they even care about this before you look at it? Later, years later, as i do now, I say if you only have one hour with a person, spend 30 minutes on their vision, 20 on their strengths, five on their weaknesses and five on their plan that’s about the correct proportion to get change.
Marie [00:09:22] Is that what you call the personal vision?
Richard [00:09:25] Personal vision, yes, they’re the answer to the question, if your life were absolutely perfect in 10 to 15 years, what would it be like? So, you know, it starts with life as the main context, work as a subset and then we do a second round as we go to prep them in which they review the vision and then go into looking at the 360 results their own. But the whole idea is to focus on the strengths. And even if the client wants to talk about the weaknesses to say, you know, we’ll get there, but let’s talk about what you’re bringing to the table. So I say to people, this is what it’s going to feel like when you’re coaching. But what you need to do is to make sure that people are listening and feeling the fact that they have capabilities and it’s far more important for a person to appreciate what they’re good at than to know what they aren’t good at. You know, I’ve been often drummed out of the positive psychology group because they say you talk about the fact that weaknesses can be useful. You know, get your feet on the ground, stop levitating, we all have weaknesses and sometimes we need to work on them. But people think, again, this coaching for compliance that what you should do is it’s all rehab, it’s all repair work, it’s not. Now, I disagreed with Marcus Buckingham when his first book came out and his second, his third and whatever. I don’t think you should just focus on the strengths because people can’t develop. I disagree with that totally. I have plenty of data to show that humans develop if you approach it the right way. But I do think that we often spend our time in the negatives realm and the example is, you know, people who try to lose weight, people who are volume challenged, you know, you actually if you’re trying to lose weight, you never will because you’re framing it negatively. I mean, when I worked with alcoholics that they said, I want to be sober, if that’s all they wanted to do, that they had to get sober, but if that’s all they wanted to do, they’d be back drinking within six months. They had to have a bigger reason and I think it’s the same thing at work
Marie [00:11:58] And how open are people in sharing that big reason?
Richard [00:12:02] It depends on how scared they are in terms of their relationships and the environment and this is where, again, the relationship to their manager, boss or their peers is very important. And if people feel like they’re competing with their peers to get the next job or if their manager is a disonnant boss, which unfortunately most of them are meaning the manager himself or herself is defensive, then you’re not going to share it with them. But if we want to help you develop, we have to create places where you can.
Marie [00:12:36] And so understanding that personal vision is one step or one part of coaching with compassion, what are the end pieces to that?
Richard [00:12:44] Well, we have found so far that if the context for the coaching or the helping, even the parenting, if the context is a shared dream, you’re going to create a more open position if the context is solving a problem or getting to a metric, you’re actually closing the person down. So the idea is to step back, you do get to the goals eventually, you do get to solve the problem eventually, but the context is the bigger picture. The second thing we’ve been able to establish through the research is that the quality of the relationship is key and we’ve used the label resonant relationships, but they’re really caring relationships. It’s the experience of mutual caring, of respect, which is captured by our use of the term compassion. And we also find that it somehow seems to rely on both parties being increasingly mindful, another fancy word for authentic.
Ben [00:14:00] You talk about climate and you talk about these caring relationships, one of the things I picked up in the book, Richard, that really got me thinking a lot was the example of Kylie Schwartz, this teacher who asks her students, I wish my teacher knew. What a great way of sort of setting the climate, if you like, I think about that example all the time. I think it’s a great metaphor for people in business to think about, what’s your question that’s going to set the climate, if you like, for these caring relationships?
Marie [00:14:32] Can you expand on that, Ben, for those people who haven’t read that part of the book?
Ben [00:14:37] Yes, sure, so, you know, the example that Richard talks about is a teacher, who wants to get the best out of his students and decides rather than sort of, you know, just pouring on with the curriculum and getting on with the job, she decides it’s actually I need to know the context of the students and where they’re coming from in order for that outcome to really occur.
Richard [00:15:00] These are elementary school students, I think, third grade.
Ben [00:15:05] And the responses the students give just create such a more beautiful understanding for the teacher to operate from, it’s almost like they build the foundations of their own education with this person through their answers to that question, I think that it was I mean, it went viral, didn’t it, and went out in the Twittersphere and is now widely practised in a lot of schools, I believe. It’s a great example. You got the corporate, a couple of corporate examples of that kind of thing, Richard that you could share with us.
Richard [00:15:36] It’s so much so that when I was when Melvin, Ellen and I decided to divvy up the responsibility for the first draft of certain chapters, Melvin took the first three. I was doing Chapter Four, which we thought was going to, I thought was going to be how to focus on the PEA and I started writing up the stories that had moved us and realised that I had the wrong focus. It’s focussing on the other person, so in fact, we changed the chapter title and the framing and the rest of it and that’s the key that the question is, are you focussing on the other person? Do you understand their dreams? Do you understand because how can you get somebody to give their all, to use their talent to, you know, when I was a CEO, I used to say to people, you know, when you’re in the shower on Saturday, I want you thinking about client issues. Now, I was in my 30s and, you know, sometimes a bit of a jerk, but the idea was, if you want discretionary effort from the people that you work with, you want to capture quite literally their hearts and minds and their hearts and minds don’t get excited by a specific goal. If you want to manage somebody else, you want to help them do their job better. You want to guide them so that they are doing it in a way that serves your clients or customers needs better. You’ve got to find out where they are and move from there that’s the thing that a lot of people in management find risky.
Marie [00:17:17] Is it enough that you know that one or two managers are doing it or coaching with compassion in an organisation or for real effect or change to take place? Does it have to be company-wide?
Richard [00:17:29] Actually, it doesn’t have to be company-wide. So let me put it in our context today. As soon as you bring us something company-wide, a whole lot of the people that are going through it are going to experience it as coaching for compliance. You know that they’re being forced to go there. So to answer your question, Marie, I don’t have an empirical basis for this, but I have a feeling, I’ve watched a lot of organisations. My guess is the tipping point is about a third. If you can get about a third of the managers throughout supervisors, mid-level executives to be using these kinds of techniques, you’re successfully doing what we’re talking about. And Ben, you and I have talked about this in the Consortium for decades, what we’re doing is creating a culture of development to complement the culture of performance, not replace it, but complement it.
Ben [00:18:29] Richard, the other thing I wanted to ask you about is, you know, these are beautiful, empowering questions that really get people thinking, the joy you come across the person who’s ready to jump straight into a conversation like that and the person that it’s just such a big, wide blank canvas. It’s not a question that’s ever been put to them. It’s for some people, a question they’ve never pondered. I personally find it just as empowering, but longer to get to, what’s your experience in that?
Richard [00:19:00] Let me answer from a couple of perspectives, one perspective is where the person has never really been encouraged to dream could be for a variety of reasons. I remember talking to a four star admiral once who had just retired from ostensibly the second or third, maybe most powerful position in the United States government. And he said, I don’t know what to do next in my career. You know, I said, oh, my God, what do you mean? He said, I’ve always had somebody else saying, hey, this will be a good option or this would be a good option. So when people have not had the opportunity either because the system is nurturing them or because the system is oppressing them, it’s going to take time. There also is the category of people, who have been beaten psychologically. They’ve been told that they’re not worth much. They’ve been shown in various ways, and I don’t mean just physically abused, but psychological abuse at the point where almost anybody with a learning disability has been hammered because of the inappropriate use of standardised tests in our education systems etc., for all of these folks the opportunity to dream is not seen as, oh, my God, thank you. This is my moment of freedom. It’s instead seen as something scary. Oh, what do we do? Use gentle doses; this is where I like to rely on the pharmaceutical industry’s model. Dosage is important and I’ll say, look, if you asked this question and you get a blank stare or you get the you know, the deer in the headlights kind of look, go to the playful version of it. Okay, let’s shift gears for a minute. You just won 80 million dollars. How would your work or life change? It’s a playful way to get at it. Very often there are not that many people who will say, you know, I don’t know, you know, they’ll say, well, you know, pay off my mortgage and I’ll put some money aside for my kids’ college funds. I’ll say, okay, so, you know, you just used up 500,000 dollars worth. You know, if you invested this money, remember, was after taxes, you invested it. You’re making somewhere around 25 to 30 million a year. You know, it’s like and all of a sudden people start to voice sometimes their values. Well, you know, I love my life right now. I say, okay that’s good. So what would you do to continue being the person you want to be? So go with the vision or the playful version of it, the lottery question, but it has to be a lot of money, not this dinky one or two million. As I say, it has to be enough that you could buy your own plane kind of thing.
Marie [00:22:07] I wonder, I do wonder whether, I mean, I think about a younger me. If someone had asked me this question when I was 20, 22, 23 there would be parts of my personal vision that I’d be terrified to share, such as wanting to have a family one day, because I think a lot of young women often feel that sharing that might scare the employer or their manager away from offering opportunities for growth or development, they think well, she’s going to have kids and just disappear on us so how do you overcome that?
Richard [00:22:38] Well, again, it goes back to the quality of the relationship. You don’t share these things if you’re, if you don’t feel like there’s an open, mutual, caring, trusting relationship and that’s the problem. If managers don’t see this as a part of their role, then they’re squelching their ability to motivate and engage people, which is why I think the engagement numbers are so abysmally low. I don’t know what they are in Australia right now, but I got to say, in North America, pre-Covid, it was 76%, Europe 83%, Japan 81% of the people with full time jobs pre-Covid were not engaged in their work that means that four fifths of the population, their bodies are showing up, but not their hearts and minds. So I think the issue is, Marie, that no, you’re not going to share it unless you feel caring. It’s also why I think coaching is so useful. I think coaching will replace face-to-face training. Now, Covid is speeding that up. But I said five years ago it was going to replace face-to-face training primary as the primary source of development. For this reason and I also think now we’ve got, I’ve got two different doctoral students and one former doctoral student doing these studies in three different countries on peer coaching and groups. I think peer coaching has even more promise than one-on-one coaching because, you know, the 25,000 people in an organisation that aren’t at a high enough level to get somebody to pay for a coach still want development. So I think those are the things and to the extent that a person doesn’t voice them, then they’re not likely to get there. The problem that you were sharing, Maria, is that some of it might be you don’t want to admit it to the other person because of their role. Some of it might also be you don’t want to admit it to yourself. So there is a conflict sometimes between social desirability, what you think others want and your own dreams. Okay, so vision is one way into the conversation and then you were raising the question, suppose there’s reluctance. Another way is to talk about values. What are your primary values or the other way to look at it, if somebody doesn’t want to talk about doing, being what kind of person you want to be? How would you like to come across the people? How would you love to come across the people next week? The third way to get into it so I think those two tap kind of hope and mindfulness, authenticity, the third key emotion is still compassion, which is driven by gratitude. So question we ask a lot is who helped you the most become who you are? You know, I always after I’m doing the exercise and processing the emotional part of it before I get into the analytic, I ask people, whose list are you going to be on? And that’s when people start to say, oh, wow, you know, when I try to encourage them, I said, look, you’ve only got two ways to have a legacy in life. One is to donate a lot of money to a great university. And I say that because I actually am paid to say that. But no, but the real legacy in life are our relationships. You could see that the thing about this, it keeps coming back to relationships, which is what the book is really about. I mean, we put it in the context of helping and we have examples about physicians and executives and parents throughout the book. Now, of course, it works for coaches and trainers and consultants, but it really has to do with what kind of relationships that we want to be building and maintaining.
Marie [00:26:29] Absolutely awesome, thank you so much, Richard.
Ben [00:26:32] It’s been a pleasure. Thank you. Richard.
Richard [00:26:35] Thank you. Marie.