Category Archives: coaching

How to Get Out of the Drama

We say we don’t want drama in our lives, especially in our interactions at work. Drama usually means unpleasantness, frustration, conflict, lack of productivity.

If it meant “real drama,” i.e. the joy and sadness of life, or dramatic performances that make us feel and reflect, it would be OK. It’s the unnecessary drama, the interpersonal politics, the constant irritants that we don’t want. They take up energy and distract us from getting important things done.

WHY is there drama?

As any team member or manager knows, people tend to play non-productive games in times of stress, when they feel threatened, or when they are bored.

Some people can stir up tension with remarkable regularity. Others fall into drama in response to triggers such as layoffs, new policies, rumors of closings or reorganizations, complaints, and either getting too much direction or too little, either too much feedback or too little.

In other words, workplace drama has plenty of possible material. If asked, most people would say they don’t participate or don’t want to.

We all play games some of the time.

Few people are skillful at recognizing their own hooks that get games started or keep them going. Dr. Eric Berne’s 1962 bestseller, Games People Play, named this phenomenon and began to provide clues to getting out of the drama. His student, Dr. Steve Karpman, contributed the Karpman Drama Triangle, capturing the three main roles of Rescuer, Persecutor, and Victim, which we all play when we engage in games. And yes, we all do engage in games some of the time.

The more hooked we are, the harder it may be to recognize that we are indeed participating. It is helpful in avoiding games to be very open to recognizing how we are hooked and the roles we play out.

Persecutor, Rescuer, and Victim Roles

If we are overtly critical and harsh with others, we are playing the Persecutor role. If we are often going out of our way to fix and solve things for others at our own expense, we are playing the Rescuer. If we keep finding that people let us down and we get the short end of the stick, we know something of the Victim.

As a rule, we do not want to see it when we are hooked, so it can take active investigation to uncover how we are keeping an undesirable situation going. All these roles can come in socially acceptable disguises.

If something’s happening that is non-productive, especially if it seems repetitive, it’s likely that people are playing all the roles; Victim, Rescuer, Persecutor; in some way.

Dissolve the myths

The way out of the drama begins with yourself. You have to dissolve the myths that go with the roles, usually beliefs that diminish your ability to stay positive and get on with it.

· To move out of Persecutor, you might have to see that the other person’s point of view makes some sense too.

· Moving out of Rescuer might mean saying a difficult “No.”

· Whenever you think you are someone else’s Victim, remember how you got here and what choices you are making now.

Almost always, drama conceals feelings and wishes that have not been communicated. Unspoken requests and expectations leave room for people to create their own dramas, feeling judged and thus victimized, or judging others from a persecuting or rescuing perspective.

Clarify requests and agreements

A very good bet for stepping out of the drama and on to whatever is next is to clarify any requests or agreements that you have with the other person. “You agreed to have that report done by today and I haven’t seen anything about it so far. Is it under way?” is a lot better than worrying and glaring, and having the other person spend their time figuring out what you might be upset about.

A genuine tone of clarifying, rather than a disguised Persecutor or Rescuer attitude, will come across as intended. If you step into the other person’s shoes and listen from their standpoint, you can probably tell if you are coming across with a hint of judgment.
This is the hardest and most important part of stopping drama — owning your part of it.

Don’t see your part of it?

When your part is hard to figure out, and the drama is continuing, it is time to ask a friend or a professional for coaching. Someone else’s observations may help you recognize the unintended, unconscious, but still active, ways that you are participating, and help you see new options.

One thing for sure: if you blame the situation or the other person and don’t find new actions for yourself to take, your claim not to want the drama doesn’t hold up.

Once you, and hopefully, the other person, are out of the cycle of drama, it might be worth a good laugh and a reminder not to take anything too seriously.

Read the whole newsletter here.

What Coaches Bring

Invaluable resources that help you get where you want to go

Some of the most important benefits of coaching may be the least quantifiable. Coaches come from a variety of backgrounds, different types of coach training, many motivations for wanting to help others in this way. Some of the gifts coaches bring are more tangible, some less obvious.
We can’t always put our finger on exactly what made a difference. From the clients’ perspective, it’s the outcome that matters, in whatever way the coach helped them get there.

Some of the gifts coaches offer:

Listening. When the coach listens, the client has a witness. While talking about a situation, the client has an opportunity to sort through what is important and what is just a circular story. Through deep listening, the coach provides a safe space for exploration as well as the sense of being understood, which meets a profound need we all have. Goals that are spoken have added clarity and strength.

Discernment. The coach gets to know you and can offer feedback that is finely tuned to where you are. Discernment comes from experience and intuition. When you don’t see how you are contributing to a negative situation, or holding back, or missing an opportunity, the coach’s discernment calls it to your attention.

Expertise. Many coaches offer specific expertise, such as business, finance, speaking, sports performance, wellness, parenting, relationships, etc. At times a coach may give instruction or direct advice, observe you in action and give feedback, or recommend readings or trainings. While coaching is not the same as teaching, an expert coach can greatly accelerate learning.

Devotion. Coaches are devoted to their clients’ success. They help define and hold the space for people to reach beyond their current level of skill, satisfaction, and accomplishment. When the client loses track or begins to flag, the coach is there to remind and redirect. The coach holds the client in positive esteem while mirroring the hopes and dreams that make the journey worthwhile. Coaches are there consistently while the world swirls around.

Creativity. When you run out of options, call on your coach to help break through to a new level of creativity. Whether as a sounding board, brainstorming partner, or cheering section, the coach helps keep creative juices flowing.

Each coach brings unique qualities and techniques to the process. Working with a coach in any field ensures that you have these resources available to you.

(This article originally appeared in the June newsletter of the Silicon Valley Coach Federation).

Are You Coachable?

Good Leaders are Good Learners – Are You?
Oh, sure, I am always open to feedback…
Is it true? Or is it hard to ask for and receive feedback? Even if we know it will have value, learning about ourselves is a risky business.

Coachability is a word that struck me the first time I heard it. It puts the responsibility on the client, not on the coach. I had to ask myself, how coachable am I really?

There’s a huge variation in our learning strategies, especially in the arenas of communication and behavior. In school, we were taught many subjects. Only a fortunate few learned the most important thing: how to learn. Many of us learned instead to perform what was asked of us. As adults, we can revisit our learning strategies. We need to reclaim our ability to be self-directed learners who can also accept coaching from others.

What distinguishes a good learning strategy?
It asks questions such as “How can I apply this?” rather than “Where won’t this work?”

Good learning strategies assume that there is a positive intention behind most behavior rather than assuming that people who disagree must be irrational.

Outstanding learners go after feedback: they want to know more about how others respond to them and what they may be missing. Their strategies include not taking the feedback personally, a rare skill. If you can take it as being useful for you and as much about the person who is giving it as about you, you can glean much insight without umbrage.

A logical / analytical option is to use a tool known as an assessment instrument that yields data about workstyles, communication styles, perceptual biases, and so forth. (See the upcoming events column for a program on assessments happening this week in Silicon Valley).

Many of our non-coachable responses are invisible to us. For instance, when I first taught a Transactional Analysis 101 course, I was supervised by my mentor and dear friend Dr. Jo Lewis. As she gave me feedback, I felt I needed to respond to each item, either justifying what I had done or commenting in some way. When she pointed it out, it was glaring.

I was not very coachable, even though I professed to want the feedback (which, by the way, was very valuable). I don’t know where I learned that pattern, and it was very helpful to become aware and stop doing that. Without someone to coach me into being a better learner, I wonder how long I would have hung onto it.

In our three-day seminars, we observe that some people come in with good learning strategies. Others spend the three days working through resistance and beginning to create new strategies. By the third day, hopefully, they are ready to learn.

What is so threatening about learning, and specifically learning to be better communicators?

First of all, the idea that we need to learn something hints that we are not already totally skillful. If you had a family like mine, you grew up with the expectation that if you were smart, you already knew things. Being a good learner wasn’t valued: being a good performer was. There was no graceful way to navigate the learning process and maintain a polished exterior.

I’ve had the good fortune to be in a career where there are many ways to ask and receive interpersonal feedback. Training as a therapist, trainer, coach, all involve much personal interaction in small and large groups and one-on-one. If you have not engaged in process-oriented learning, it’s something to consider. Many leadership programs have a least some component of this kind of process. This is embedded in Syntax leadership courses, and is more fully developed in coaching and culture change engagements.

In collaboration, someone will always have more expertise than you in one or another aspect of the task you are working on together. If you have a knee-jerk defense or know-it-all reaction, how helpful is that? Somehow, being a smart kid didn’t necessarily equip us for learning from our teammates. Unless we focus on it, we may not even recognize we are creating a less than optimal space for learning.

Learning about our behavior and the choices we have moment-to-moment is as present as air and often as invisible.

Being a learner means being willing to be open about the trials and errors along the way. Learning as a communicator means seeking out coaching from peers, a professional coach, or a mentor. We do NOT know the impact of our behavior without feedback from others.

When a leader is willing to learn openly, and can receive feedback authentically and graciously, he or she is demonstrating true leadership. Role modeling is the most powerful form of permission for others to be open about their learning as well.

Changes drive much of our learning. All of us are learning like crazy these days — the new Facebook and Twitter pages, Go-to-Webinar, your new smartphone–and who knows what other emerging platforms will pull us in next.

Whatever the specific technology, learning to use it so that it enhances mutual understanding is one of the great social learning assignments of our time.

The amazing thing is how much we actually do absorb and utilize from the masses of stimuli out there.

We can expand our ability to learn throughout our lives. They say that people who are too old to learn were probably always too old to learn. Instead, seek out ways to be consciously coachable and lead the way.

What Can Communication Coaching Do For You?

Especially at work, what we communicate is who we are. As leaders and co-workers, we enhance or detract from the success of our enterprise with the communication competence we demonstrate. This is a skill set that has to grow to keep pace with complexity.
Working with a communication coach is a high-leverage way to accomplish several objectives at once:
-dedicating time and focus to this crucial area of your work life
-learning new skills tailored to your style and your goals
-and, perhaps most important, having an observer who can give you feedback and a place to test your thinking.

Many well-known C-level executives and other leaders rely on coaches, particularly to prepare for communication situations. If you want to reduce the stress and optimize your traction in communicating, it is likely that your HR folks or your department’s budget can provide funds for coaching.

No longer seen as remedial, communication coaching is fuel for career advancement and business success. For entrepreneurs, the return on investment is easy to measure through direct results.

Some criteria for selecting a communication coach:
– they make a clear contract for a number of sessions and / or a measurable outcome
– they do not have a conflicting relationship with you, i.e. they are not your boss or your best friend
– they are able to explain their approach, the communication models or assessments they use, and how this is applicable to your goals
-they will have an introductory conversation with you to determine best fit.

One of the criteria for choosing a coach is what you can learn from him or her. Coaches who are skilled with communication models help you put them into practice on a daily basis.

We all have blind spots, or simply preferences that don’t match up with those of co-workers or customers. Coaching can help prevent breakdowns or help us learn from them. An extra benefit is getting a reality check from a trusted advisor. Priceless.

We live in an amazingly complex world and an information-rich environment. The more intelligence you bring to it, the more you gain. Communication coaching helps you focus on what matters most to reach your goals. If you’re ready, let’s talk!

Competent Coaches, Diverse Clientele – an evening with NorCal Professional Coaches and Mentors Association (PCMA)

When I was invited to speak at the San Francisco meeting of the PCMA, I didn’t know what to expect. Would these be business or life coaches, backgrounds in business, therapy, training? Are they really practicing their craft or wannabees talking to each other? Would they be open or more competitive? Are they steeped in a particular model and interpreting the world through that lens?

The experience of the evening was a very pleasant and interesting one. The volunteers running the meeting greeted me and helped me get all the equipment situated, making sure I had a place at the dinner table. Lively conversations were going on at every table. Some members were continuing discussions that had begun in pre-meeting interest groups, including a learning lab on neuroscience with friend and colleague Janet Crawford.

A few familiar faces appeared and we renewed our acquaintance. Each person with whom I spoke knew at least several facets of coaching and were eager to share material. Among other topics, we touched on Somatic Coaching, Five Rhythms and Strozzi forms of movement awareness, Spiral Dynamics, differentiated from Five Dynamics, the Kolbe Conative Index, the Enneagram, and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. These people had a broad understanding of the field as well as their specialties.

When we did activities as part of my program, people engaged enthusiastically. They shared ahas and insightful questions. I felt comfortable in the community of peers.

Early in my talk, I asked the group what kinds of clients they were serving. Answers included
-business leaders
-healthcare professionals
-county and local government employees
-federal Health and Human Services employees
-sales professionals
and a few more.

Even in what we are calling a down economy, coaches inside and outside organizations are assisting clients in many fields. This form of learning and development, introduced in many workplaces beginning in the late 90’s, has apparently taken root.

With the overload of information and stimuli, increasing global and technical acceleration, and pressure-filled personal lives, one-on-one coaching appears to be a time-value activity that keeps people afloat. Rather than the remedial solution that used to signal a likely firing, coaching is a perk for the upwardly mobile and the people who are being stretched thin by expanding responsibilities.

It is a healthy sign for our society and organizational cultures if this is so. Many more executives, managers, and HRD departments would do well to take advantage of the available resources.

Vetting a coach is a skill set in itself, and should not be taken lightly. Competence and chemistry are very important. Potential coach clients should use references and their intuition in early conversations to determine whether a coach’s offer is right for them.

With this caveat in mind, I have to say that the roomful of people who attended my talk this week struck me as highly competent, clear on what they could offer, learning from and with each other, and probably a great referral source for people in the SF Bay area ready to check out working with a coach.

I am available to refer prospective clients to coaches based on a personal knowledge of various people’s work. Contact me at and I will be glad to provide names of excellent Bay Area and East Coast coaches.

Optimize Your (Team’s) Time and Talent

What manager hasn’t suffered with the planning or execution of important meetings, having people nitpick or go off on tangents or engage in needless conflict?
I am a PROCESS COACH and help you and your team make the most of your time and talent. Calculate the cost of the talent in the room and the ROI of using a process coach becomes clear.
Contact me to pursue the possibilities for you, your team, your clients. We can partner to get great results through the Five Essentials of Good Groups. Also check out our book, Smart Work: The Syntax Guide for Mutual Understanding in the Workplace (Kendall-Hunt). See for Syntax, the system we use.
Looking forward to hearing from you and smoothing the path to great results with good people!

Recent feedback:
Lucy Freedman possesses that rare quality of being able to lead and follow at the same time. In the space of only two days, she turned one dozen highly creative, independent, and successful entrepreneurs into a productive, unified team, with everyone smiling, pleased with themselves individually and everyone else as a group. I am still amazed at her organizational development skills. I got to watch a master at work.

Anne Teachworth, Southeast Rep, USATAA Council
Director, Gestalt Institute of New Orleans/New York
Fellow, American Psychotherapy Assn.
Author, Why We Pick The Mates We Do