Hi, I hope you’re doing well. I know that many of you are dealing with tough situations now or soon-many of them to do with budget, but not all of them. I know that you don’t need me to remind you that in your capacity as coaches and leaders, you have particular responsibility to take care of others, so this letter is intended to help with that a little bit. This list represents my best advice.
1. Take care of yourself. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but it’s like the safety briefing on airplanes-put on your own oxygen mask first.
2. Don’t assume that you know how others are going to react. We all bring our own mental models, which are in turn shaped by our own histories, to any given situation, and not only do they inform our own responses, we also tend to assume that others are going to experience an event the same way we do. Human beings are, as a general rule, good at sympathy but lousy at empathy-it is a skill we need to develop, not a gift we are born with. Trust me on this. So don’t think of it as a personality trait, think of it as a cognitive ability that you train, like learning another language.
3. You don’t know enough about anyone to predict how they will be impacted by anything. Therefore: don’t say, “You must be feeling…” or “I imagine that this is…” Oh, and for the love of all that is precious, don’t use the “I know change is scary” line. And…
4. Don’t express surprise. It implies that a reaction is unwarranted or unreasonable; it is an admission that you thought you knew the person better than you do; it is likely to make the person less likely to approach you in the future. And…
5. Listen. Don’t interrupt, don’t finish people’s sentences for them, don’t assume you know that they are talking about, and don’t immediately start talking about a similar situation you’ve experienced.
6. Make it clear that you are fundamentally concerned for the welfare of the people with whom you work. Express your desire to be supportive, and ask for input on how to do that best. Don’t promise more than you can deliver.
Much of this advice falls under the conceptual framework of emotional intelligence, a frame popularized by Daniel Goleman, although his is not the only definition. I’m attaching a summary of his framework as a useful basis for reflection. You may enjoy this short introduction on YouTube <http://bit.ly/2o1F6WD> . If you want to read more about the implications of emotional intelligence for leadership, I recommend Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R. E., & McKee, A. (2013). Primal leadership: Unleashing the power of emotional intelligence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Press. Also, I’m attaching the same one-page guide to listening that came with CL #11.
Finally, in writing this Coaching Letter, I have placed myself in a particular relationship to you, and so I feel a particular responsibility to take care of you. I have a very strong desire to be supportive, and I want you to let me know how I can best offer that support. I am an excellent listener, I have a particular expertise in coaching by text message, and I am very invested in your success. I will help as best I can.
Isobel Stevenson PhD PCC
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106