Coaching has taught me many things – especially how to listen deeply to what people say, how they say it, and the intent in which it is said so when I was put into a very uncomfortable position the other day it reminded me how important the art of listening is and how deserving we all are to expect it.
First let me set the scene. I had been invited to attend a business/entrepreneur group that had been meeting weekly. Its members were entrepreneurs who were seeking community and sharing of ideas and support. My connection was encouraging about the resources the group could and would provide and believed this would be a great place for me to explore the expansion ideas I had for my own business.
It is probably important to know that I tend to be very positive, supportive, and open to anything when I enter a new group seeking opportunity to learn and grow. I work very hard to come into an event with a willing heart and a belief that it is my responsibility to participate and engage in the activity out of both curiosity and respect.
On this particular day I eagerly joined this new collective with energy and a willingness to do all I could to make the most of the experience. My goal being to take away the newfound support in a common community and implement it into my passion, my purpose – my business and those I serve.
Oh, the innocence.
I clicked into the Zoom room, acknowledged the people I knew, there were about 3, and prepared to introduce myself. The facilitator welcomed everyone and set us all to answer the questions: “If you gave your business a color of red, yellow, or green to represent where it was today, what color would you give it and what is your “hot seat” question for the day?”
Being the eager participant, I quickly jotted down the requests and waited my turn. “Kendel Paulsen. Somewhere between yellow and green. Oh… um… okay… I would like to know how others stay focused on your ideal client and avoid going down the rabbit hole of wanting to serve everyone.” Trying to be a “full participant”, I created the question off the cuff without thought and with just the idea I would receive some hints and tricks to staying focused.
What happened instead was something out of the Roman Empires equivalent to: Events at the Coliseum this Weekend: Come see the lions eat the human.
In this “hot seat” experience, instead of hearing suggestions or words of wisdom, I sat there in shock being insulted, degraded, and demoralized by the entire group. Words such as: “You can’t…”, “You don’t…”, “I can’t even wrap my head around what you are trying to do…”, “That can’t be done…”, “You need to stop thinking you can do that…” – again, and again, and again…
Remember, I had never met 80% of the people participating. They had no idea who I was, what I was working on (other than a brief high level summary of a goal), or anything about what it had taken for me to get to the point of growing to the next level – so they started with no basis, deciding instead to jump in with their believed insight into how I was supposed to operate my business to be successful – and in one case, how my business could never be successful.
Now, as you read this, who remembers my original question?
I can tell you right off the bat… not one of these participants nor the facilitator could have.
Instead of actually hearing the question, what the people in the group did was cherry pick a word or two and apply it to what they assumed was my ask.
After the slaughter was over, the facilitator asked: ‘Kendel, how helpful was that for you?’
I took a breath, paused as I realized my emotions were in the center of my throat begging to burst through, and quietly and calmly state: “That was the most unhelpful, demoralizing, and degrading experience, and, I have no words… None.” And I turned my camera and microphone off.
I contemplated exiting the session but for some reason I decided to sit in silence and see what happened.
The facilitator was in total shock. She too paused and, when she was ready, spoke with confusion about my reaction, apologizing for the negative experience, etc., etc.
The person that invited me into the group tried to recover the situation but gave up after realizing the damage was done and there truly was no way to recover from this failure.
The meeting ended and the screen disappeared with all those confused faces and chat statements of: “Your idea is great!” “You’ll do fantastic!” “I believe in your idea.” There’s nothing like people desperately trying to reclaim their dignity after crossing a line and crushing another person’s dreams and goals.
With that, I sat in my pain for a while, replaying the event over and over again in my head and asking myself, “Did that really just happen?”
A participant sent me a message telling me how bad they felt, that their heart broke for me, but that “you must know this all came from a place of love.” Damn, I thought, if that was love, I’d be frightened to see hate!
But they were right. Even during the most painful parts of what these people were saying, I was clear in the understanding that they had absolutely no clue whatsoever that they were off base by a mile. Their intent was not at all driven by hate or ill wishes, but by true ignorance and the inability to hear clearly what was being asked.
Though I did not take their words personally, it did not negate the insulting pain I had received. What it did do is remind me of how important my job as a life coach is.
Life coaches exist because people seek to be heard, deeply heard.
Listening – real listening – is what people need and deserve. When I coach someone, I am deeply listening to them – not to solve their problems but to support their goals and dreams – something few of us get from others, even those who love us. When you have a coach, that coach is there not to give you the answer, they are there to hear what you are asking. That is the difference between a participant in a round table discussion and a coach who has been hired to be there to help someone by providing deep, nonjudgmental, and supportive listening.
In the end, I truly feel sorry for those members for their failure to hear me and I do hope that they have learned from this experience that if you truly want the best for your team, your group, your clients, you need to just shut up and listen.