I am supposed to be shooting the next Real Programmer episode today, but I had a really good wrap-up meeting that was important, and I’m waiting for one more piece I need to send a first invoice to a new client, and I want to talk about coaching.
In another part of the forest, some folks are discussing the frustrations of what is, by whatever name we call it, coaching. And the long and the short of it is "they won’t even try what I want them to do".
These sorts of conversations are pretty much standard "coaches-at-the-bar" talk. After all, getting people to try things we want them to is pretty much the job. All jobs are like this. I can’t imagine what my doctors, quaffing an icy one after work, say about me, for instance.
"This idiot spends his entire adult life ignoring every aspect of his body’s needs, and he won’t even try taking a fifteen-minute walk every day. Now he whines at me all the time cuz his back hurts!"
And so but anyway, you know what? Today, I’m that old doctor who sits down at the far end of the bar, sipping his scotch, watching Jeopardy, and occasionally throwing out some snarly annoying meta-commentary.
I worry that you’re asking too much of them. Every one we work with has between 20 and 100 years of lived experience. When we open them to a new idea that seems to flout that experience, that’s an awful lot, to expect them to try just because we said it works.
I’m almost certain you’re also asking too much of yourself. Making a space for people to change in is hard, really hard. It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done. You’re going to fail more than you succeed. It is part and parcel of the job, so maybe go easy on yourself.
That frame you’re using, of "get them to do what I want them to do", is a mug’s frame. Try different, not harder. I like "get each person to do what each person wants to do to become better". That frame helps me see my challenge much more clearly.
That tool, oodles and oodles of words and reasons and numbers, is a lousy tool for enabling humans to change. Humans don’t change because arguments. Humans start most changes by relationship, and they keep those changes because they like how it makes them feel.
Listen to their story. Ask for it. Listen as if you were a ghostwriter, wanting to tell their story from their point of view and have it make sense. Most people aren’t stupid or mean, most people are doing the best they can do right now right now. Give them that.
Take smaller steps, and don’t worry about driving as fast as you can to your target. Wander off the direct route to your "best" technique. It’s okay. You’re not gonna get lost, and you’re not gonna lose your target. You’re actually going to get their faster.
A lot of the resistance you experience is the Bernaise Sauce Effect. Get used to that, and learn how to back toward things, by techniques like re-narrating, strewing treats on the trail, dropping your approved terminology.
Stay with them while they’re trying things. Be their story-slicing buddy, or their TDD buddy, or whatever it is you’re pushing. A lot of change-pain happens for reasons that are entirely incidental. You can see that and know that and help with that, when they can’t.
You’re looking for "relaxed with pep". So enjoy yourself, and get lots of rest. Enjoy them, and help them get lots of rest. The simple truth of the matter is, in the grand scheme of things, none of this is terribly significant.
If your technique is really all that and a bag of chips, lemme tell you: support people to explore, jiggle their language, mangle the frame, and adjust to what they see. They’ll find your technique sooner or later. And if it’s not all that and a bag of chips, why stress?
Sorry for the spewage. I’ll go back to my end of the bar and watch some more TV.
Oh. One more thing:
It’s really cool that you care about this so much. Really cool. I do, too.
Next round’s on me.
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