Most trained coaches know how to be supportive, encouraging and nonjudgmental. These approaches are useful but often not enough to create a new awareness. Coaching starts by building trust and rapport, but as the conversation goes deeper you might need to generate a bit of discomfort to create a breakthrough in thinking.
What happens when you challenge someone’s thinking?
In order to define who we are and make sense of the world around us, our brains develop constructs and rules that we strongly protect without much thought. In Who’s in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain (Ecco, 2011), neuroscientist Michael S. Gazzaniga says we get stuck in our automatic thought-processing and fool ourselves into thinking we are right. When someone asks us why we did something, we immediately come up with an answer even if the response doesn’t make complete sense. We instantly concoct a brilliant reason for procrastinating on a task, for prioritizing reading email over a project deadline or for making life decisions based on how we will feel in the future when, in truth, we can never be sure how the circumstances will impact us emotionally.
To disturb this automatic processing, you reflect holes in your client’s logic and ask questions that reveal the fears, needs and desires keeping the constructs in place. NeuroBusiness Group founder and CEO Srinivasan S. Pillay, M.D. writes that this coaching approach is the only way to stop the automatic processing. Reflection and questions crack the force field that protects your client’s sense of reality, enabling her to explore, examine and change strongly held beliefs and behavior.
The reaction to bringing these things to light will register somewhere between slight discomfort and an emotional outpour. Momentary confusion and abrupt realizations trigger emotional reactions. The truth can hurt or at least surprise you before it sets you free.
Therefore, negative emotions can be a good sign. When your client realizes she has blocked a truth that was in her face the entire time, she may feel mortified, angry or sad. She is finally confronting her rationalizations and seeing her blind spots. For a moment, her brain does not know what to think. As Nessa Victoria Bryce writes in the July/August 2014 issue of Scientific American Mind, this pause in certainty as the brain rushes to reinterpret information is necessary for a clearer and broader understanding of the situation to emerge. In researching how coaching works in the brain for The Discomfort Zone, I found this moment of uncertainty is necessary for behavioral learning to occur. Only with this new awareness will your client willfully commit to behaving in a different way.Download Article 500 Club