Coach’s Challenge for 10/26/09

Good day, team,

This past weekend, I’ve been perusing some of the coach’s challenges I wrote back in 2004. There was one in particular that seemed appropriate to republish, given some of the difficulties I see my clients facing at present. Here’s a portion of the challenge from April 2004:

“Try not to be defensive. We often find this stance is our knee-jerk reaction to blame: When someone blames us, we defend ourselves. The reality is that if we are trying to do our best, there is nothing to defend. See how often you defend yourself with others. More importantly, notice how often you defend yourself internally. Thoughts like “They really don’t understand me. I’m the one who was right; they just don’t get it” are a form of inner defensiveness. Sooner or later, this inner defensiveness gets projected out onto to someone else.”

What struck me about this challenge was the partnership that blame and defensiveness form in working against us, particularly when we’re trying to play on the same team. At the heart of this defensiveness is our overwhelming desire to be right.   This desire along with wanting to look good, or be the smartest person in the room, is so overwhelming that it blinds us to whatever anyone else is saying or doing.

I remember my father talking with my mother over dinner one evening about his colleague Bill. Bill always had to be right, always had to put himself in the best light possible, and could not be trusted because he focused entirely on making himself look good. My father said, “Bill is so determined to be right that even when he’s wrong, he’s often the first to point it out, so he can be right about being wrong!” I remember thinking how awful it must be to worry about what other people think about you all the time.

On reflection, I realize that what my father said that evening about not trusting Bill is at the heart of this issue. We can find other people to be reliable, competent and friendly, even committed to the same goals we are, but if we think their chief motivation is to make themselves look good, that their goal is merely the next promotion, a big bonus or a chance to pump up their ego, we don’t trust them.

When our self-image is at stake, we go to extraordinary lengths to defend ourselves. Sadly, though, the self-image we’ve created is imaginary, and so we end up defending something that doesn’t exist. I often ask my husband, “What do you see me doing?” because I cannot see myself. I’m too close to my well-honed self-image, like the hand right in front of my face, touching my nose. I often have to check in with myself to inquire about my true motivation. Am I only doing this to make myself look good? Have I taken anyone else’s well-being into account before I pursue a given course of action?

Some of the people I consider heroes—Gandhi, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama—have never been afraid to be wrong in the eyes of others when it comes to the well-being and welfare of their fellow beings. I hold them in high esteem and often think, “What would they do?” before I act.

Your challenge this week is to see where you are most defended and ask yourself, “Who am I defending?” If you often blame others for what goes wrong, ask yourself if blaming them leads to a good outcome. How much of your motivation is about making yourself look good rather than what’s best for the team? Be courageous in your inquiry.

The Dalai Lama advises, “When you think everything is someone else´s fault, you will suffer a lot. When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy. Pride leads to violence and evil. The truly good gaze upon everything with love and understanding.”

Have a good week!

Kathleen

Kathleen Doyle-White
Pathfinders Coaching
(503) 296-9249

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