Tag: listening

Words of Wisdom

Good day, team.

This last challenge for 2013 is about finding grace and wisdom in the most unlikely places.

On a trip to California this week to visit a client, I found myself in a taxi at 4:45 in the morning en route to the airport. My taxi driver arrived right on time and greeted me with a broad smile as he took my bag and placed it in the trunk of the car.

Soon after leaving my home, we began to talk. Hearing his accent, I asked him where he was from. “Ethiopia,” he replied with a deep bass resonance in his voice. “Ahhh,” I replied. “I had a client once who is American but grew up there as the daughter of missionaries. She spoke very highly of your country and enjoyed her years there growing up.” And so our conversation continued about Ethiopia, his experience growing up there, the differences between his birthplace and America, etc.

We began to talk about the things that were most important to us as we were growing up. He spoke about always working at school and living in his small village with his family. He didn’t have much time for play as a kid and really didn’t have much time to enjoy the better parts of his culture. Ironically, now that he lives in the U.S., he makes an effort to meet with other Ethiopians to enjoy what bits of their native culture they can recreate here.

He talked about the differences between America and Ethiopia. As he put it, “Here, we all have food, a roof over our heads, a TV, a car, etc. It’s convenient. There, we had each other, and although it was primitive, there was much more connection between people. I took it for granted growing up. But not here. Here, I have to make time for the emotional connections I make with others.” I commented that I understood what he meant. I told him I had taken a year off to live in Italy when I was in my 30s, and that after being there a year, I observed that the Italians had created a daily routine that included about four to six events that allowed them to connect emotionally with each other ― early morning espresso at the coffee bar, midmorning cappuccino break, long lunches, drinks before dinner in the local square and dinner. We agreed that some cultures have foregone quality emotional interactions for efficiency.

As we pulled up to the curb at the airport, my driver turned to me with his bright eyes and big smile. “You know,” he said, “all people have that special something in them, that thing that’s so hard to describe but is always there. I call it love, and of all the things we have in this world, it’s the most precious. To have a good life, we have to share it.”

I smiled back at my Ethiopian messenger. He reminded me of something I read in the Bible as a child: “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Luke 12:40.

This week, listen to the messages of grace, love and wisdom that come to you, often from the least likely places. Maybe it’s your child whose words remind you of what’s most important in your life. Perhaps it’s the produce guy at the grocery store who comments about vegetables in a way that reminds you how connected we are to the earth. Or maybe it’s a team member whose humorous remark in a moment, reveals something true about you.
These words of wisdom can come from anyone. Whatever the message, see them as gifts that come to you along the way.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us, “The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.”

Have a great holiday!


NOTE: The next coach’s challenge will be published Jan. 12, 2014.

© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.


Good day, team.

A few years ago, I wrote a coach’s challenge about a young girl named Bailey who I sat next to on an airplane flight. She taught me something fundamental about communication and emotional presence that I think is always worth sharing. I re-publish this challenge each year during the holidays in dedication to her. Here it is:

I had an experience recently that seemed an appropriate topic for this week since we are officially now in the holiday season.

While flying back to Portland, I sat next to a 10-year-old girl named Bailey. When I first saw her, she seemed just like any other little girl, but as I sat down next to her, the flight attendant informed me that Bailey was a “challenged child” (an odd term) in that she could not speak. However, the flight attendant went on to say that Bailey would understand everything I said to her and could communicate with movement and expressions.

This news made me immediately uncomfortable. As I buckled my seatbelt and settled into my seat, I realized how awkward and confused I felt. Should I speak to her or not? What kind of response would I get from someone who couldn’t speak? Did she even want me to interact with her? It was as if this little girl were made of fine porcelain and if I didn’t treat her very carefully, she might break.

Fortunately, Bailey immediately put me at ease with her beautiful smile and sparkling blue eyes. When I said hello to her, she smiled and waved hello. The plane took off, and I began to read a magazine. The many Christmas advertisements featured pictures of snowflakes, stars, icicles, presents, etc.

Each time that I turned a page and a picture of a star appeared, Bailey pointed to the star and looked at me and smiled. I would then say, “Yes, that’s a star.” Before long, I noticed that I was actually looking for more pictures of stars so we could communicate with each other.

Coincidentally, there was a boy sitting behind us about the same age as Bailey. I realized before long that he talked pretty much continuously, first about the X-Box he wanted for Christmas, then about his friend’s new cell phone, then about school, then about his Dad, and so on and so on.

After awhile, I realized I had toned him out. I may have been open to hearing what he had to say in the beginning, but after so many words, I was no longer interested. And yet, every movement and expression of the little girl sitting next to me, who couldn’t speak a word, kept me keenly interested in what she was communicating.

This experience made me think about our basic need to connect with each other as human beings, and the importance of allowing our emotional beings to reach out to each other in any way possible. When we take up all the space by talking about ourselves and don’t allow the other person to respond, the connection is lost, and the speaker becomes a nuisance rather than someone we want to know.

Bailey taught me something fundamental about our true nature as human beings. Wordlessly, her communication came through loud and clear. Her loving nature spoke volumes, and our communication had a quality that I don’t often experience when I talk with another person.

At one point, when a picture in the magazine appeared that showed animals around a beautifully decorated holiday tree, Bailey took my hand briefly and pointed my finger to the star at the top of the tree. Her open heartedness moved me with such warmth and joy that it brought tears to my eyes.

This week, try connecting with others in ways that you don’t normally. Experiment with being more present to someone who is speaking to you so that you can not only hear her or his words, but can also notice expressions and gestures. Perhaps you’ll try greeting someone with a smile and some eye contact instead of a hello. If you find that you tend to talk a lot about yourself, try to ask other people questions about themselves instead. Practice listening more, especially to the words that are not being spoken, so that you can have a different experience in your communications.

And finally, be grateful that you have the amazing ability to connect and communicate with others in so many ways. By meeting Bailey, I understood that some of us are not so fortunate and that many of the things we take for granted, like saying our name, are not possible for others.

During this holiday season, be thankful for your ability to let others know what you think, how you feel, and who you are. And don’t be afraid to really connect by allowing the beauty of your heart to speak out, whether it’s in words or silence.

Have a good week!


© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

1/29/12 “Good Questions”

Good day, team.

This past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of asking good questions. I realized that learning how to ask good questions was not a part of my education. All through school, we were encouraged to come up with the right answers — but not to become experts at the process of inquiry. This sets us up in our lives to always feel compelled to have the answer — and always the right answer.

It wasn’t until I was trained to be a coach that I learned how to ask good questions. We were encouraged not to answer any questions but rather to continue to inquire even if we thought we had the answers for our clients. Through the questions, we can prompt our clients to discover more about themselves, investigate more thoroughly the circumstances they find themselves in and understand how people are influencing their lives. In fact, so much about coaching revolves around the process of inquiry that you could say the best coaches ask the most insightful and relevant questions.

Having been an executive recruiter for many years, I was accustomed to a traditional form of interviewing that asked candidates questions about their work history and experience. I received lots of information about what they had done and how they did it. What I didn’t get enough of was a good understanding of who the person was. Back then, we didn’t ask a lot of ‘who’ questions like, what did he or she value most and want to see reflected in the values of an organization? What was the person most proud of in his or her life — not just in terms of work — and what would he or she never be willing to give up? Where did he or she tend to self-sabotage? How well did the candidate know themselves? How would a close friend or associate describe the character of the candidate?

Here’s a great example of a “who” question and answer. A good friend of mine named Ben was interviewing for a position to do something he hadn’t done before. He had some of the skills from a previous profession, but he would require much technical training if he got this new job. It would require a good-sized investment on the part of the organization if he were hired. He knew it would be a stretch for them to select him over other candidates who had just the right background for the job.

Toward the end of the interview, the hiring manager asked Ben, “What are you most proud of accomplishing in your life?” After a brief hesitation, Ben replied, “Staying married for the past 25 years.” The hiring manager chuckled, “I know exactly what you mean,” he said. “It’s a real challenge and commitment to stick with it through thick and thin.” It was at that point that the real connection was made between Ben and the hiring manager. By answering the question truthfully and sincerely, Ben revealed much more about who he was and what was important to him. He got the job and continued to have an open and genuine relationship with his new boss.

Asking good questions of others is one part of this challenge; the other is to be willing to ask yourself more questions. I think our fear of self-discovery comes from living in a world where outward appearances are so important. The emphasis is on how you look and act for other people, and you’re not encouraged to look inward to discover more about who’s in there. It’s as though the character you play on stage is more important than who’s in the dressing room before you put on your costume.

Self-inquiry is important, and it’s often the only way I can get to what’s at the heart of a matter for myself. When I’m worried about something or have something I need to work through, I often ask myself “why” to get to the deeper matter at hand. Here’s an example of some recent self dialogue:

— I’m afraid to have that difficult conversation with that person.

— Why?

— Because it will make me feel nervous and anxious.

— Why?

— Because when I think about the reaction that person will have, it makes me cringe and feel extremely uncomfortable.

— Why?

— Because I don’t want her to think I’m judging her, and I don’t want her to think badly of me.

— Why?

— Because I worry about what she will think of me.


— Because I’m not very confident about my relationship with her.

— Why?

— Because I don’t trust she’ll see that I have the best of intentions toward her.

— Why?

— Because she doesn’t trust me.

— Why?

— Because she has trouble trusting people.

And so on.

I first heard about the “why” exercise when I read that Sony Corp. used this as a practice to help employees get to the real reasons behind why they should or shouldn’t do something or explore ideas and strategies on a deeper level. Whenever someone in the company made an emphatic statement about what should be done, others were instructed to ask “why” five times so they could get to the root of the idea. I’ve used it a number of times in my own self-inquiry and with others. It always gets me closer to the truth.

This week, try asking good questions. Perhaps you already know the answer to something, but go ahead and purposefully ask your co-worker the question to hear another point of view. Maybe you decide to check in more often in your conversations with others to make sure they heard you or understand you. A simple inquiry like, “Does this make sense to you?” after you’ve made a statement can start a much more enlightening conversation about the subject. Another idea is to turn a statement into a question or reframe an opinion so it opens the door for someone else to comment. If you are uncertain about your thinking or feelings, don’t be afraid to ask yourself “why” a few times to get to what’s really going on. Or maybe just experiment with the “why” exercise for fun with some of your team members.

Asking good questions is an art. And like art, it requires practice to get better at it. As Peter Drucker, the famous business consultant said, “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.”

Have a good week!


© Copyright 2012 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.