Coach’s Challenge for 11/13/11 “What do they think about me?”

Good day, team.

In my coaching practice, I often see patterns or trends among my clients in terms of the difficulties they are experiencing. For example, in the past month, many of my clients have become focused on what others think or feel about them.

Overall, I’ve observed that we all spend far too much time wondering what others think of us. No matter how certain I think I am about what others think of me, I can never truly know without asking. And often, when I do ask, I end up being wrong. In fact, I often discover that the other person isn’t thinking about me at all but rather judging themselves in some way. Ironically, most people are doing the same thing: spending too much time and energy worrying about what others think.

Here’s a good example. Last year, one of my clients worked for someone she was convinced didn’t like her. She complained to me that others in the department got special treatment from the boss. She was jealous that he spent time mentoring others and felt he never spent quality time with her. She worried that her boss would give her a poor performance review. She became so convinced he had something against her that she began to fear every meeting she had with him. And she began telling others in the company that she was sure he was out to get her and that, eventually, he would fire her.

This scenario may sound paranoid, but many people experience these kinds of thoughts and feelings about a boss, a relative, an old friend who no longer makes contact, or even a current friend who they are convinced no longer approves of or likes them.

I suggested to my client that perhaps she should meet with her boss and express her true thoughts and feelings. My idea was to let him know that she understood her feelings might not be true, but that she would at least like to own them and clear the air. In exploring this idea, she admitted that what frightened her the most was allowing herself to be vulnerable with her boss. She worried that he could then really hurt her. I asked if going through her current amount of suffering was better or worse than the kind of conversation she and her boss might be able to have if she told him about her feelings. She went away pondering the question.

In the course of our work together, I began to see that by being so frightened of her boss, my client was actually beginning to attract the very thing she most feared — that he would fire her. One day, I received an email from her boss asking if we could meet. He expressed concerns about my client and couldn’t figure out what was wrong. He observed that she often acted strangely around him. In their one-on-one meetings, she couldn’t make eye contact with him and would be in tears if he pointed out areas for improvement. When he did compliment her on a job well done, she brushed if off and said, “Well, that’s just part of my job, isn’t it?” He was particularly concerned about the effect she had on the rest of the team and felt that she might be spreading rumors about him that weren’t true. One of his other employees had come to him and told him that my client obviously didn’t respect him because she often complained about how hard he was to work for. He was beginning to think that perhaps she wasn’t the right fit for the job and the department.

Of course, the boss was struggling to figure this dynamic out and spent a lot of time analyzing each interaction with her. What was he doing wrong? Had he given her too much to do? Was she unstable and did his behavior provoke an emotional response to him? He was beginning to doubt his management abilities the more he thought about it.

Months went by until finally, my client’s boss reached a tipping point. He just couldn’t take it any longer and in the middle of a meeting with my client, he stopped and said, “What am I doing wrong here? You seem to always be upset about something I’ve done.” To which my client, burst into tears and ran out of his office.

The good news is that this was the needed breakthrough. My client later sat down with her boss and expressed her fears and concerns. She was completely shocked to learn that her boss had similar feeilngs of inadaqaucy in regards to how he was managing her. They discovered that their styles of communication and how they approached tasks was so completely different that they didn’t understand each other very well. Whenever there was a misunderstanding, they each were convinced that they had done something wrong and that the other was judging them for lack of performance.

The danger here is in projecting our madness onto others. When we convince ourselves that someone doesn’t like us, we make up stories about them and project those stories out as the truth. How often have you spoken negatively to a co-worker about someone you work with and then gotten your co-worker to believe things about that person that aren’t even true? It can take years for people to get over these negative stories and the fear they can create in an organization.

This week, see how often you think about what others think of you. Are you worried about what others are saying about you? Have you become angry or fearful because you’re convinced someone else thinks your not good enough or not competent in your job? Have you become so convinced that someone doesn’t like you that you try to find reasons not to like them as well? All of this can be avoided when we realize that no one spends all that much time thinking about us, whether in a negative or a positive vein. Allowing our imagination to run wild with our false stories and interpretations of events has a destructive effect on us that can last a life time.

Everyday I ask myself, do these thoughts I’m having serve me? Is it worth my time and energy to continue to worry about something I have no control over? How damaging is it for me to allow my mind to run wild with these thoughts? Perhaps, I can think better thoughts about myself and this other person. What do I know about both of us that’s really true?

I know these thoughts will come and go. It’s just a question of whether I want to hold onto them, entertain them and feed them. At the heart of it, we all want to be loved and cared for. But the only person I have control over is myself. So, I try to love and care for myself each day. The good news is that when I do this, my ability to love and care for others increases and it’s no longer just about me. It becomes much more about us.

Have a great week!

Kathleen

© Copyright 2011 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.
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