Coaching The Person, Not The Problem with Dr. Marcia Reynolds

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Keeping Agile Non-Denominational, Episode 30

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 Alex Kudinov   Welcome, everyone. This is another episode of Tandem Coaching Academy's Keeping Agile Coaching Non-Denominational podcast. We are your hosts today Cherie Silas and I, Alex Kudinov. Today we have Marcia Reynolds joining us. She is the fifth president of ICF, International Coach Federation, and she is one of the founding members of that coaching organization and you might know Marcia by her book by Coaching the Person, Not the Problem and the title of the book becomes kind of eponymous of what we do in coaching; go behind the problem, focus on the person, everything're probably not digging deep enough. So, Marcia, how did you get to writing that book?

Marcia Reynolds   Well, thank you, Alex. Every book I've written has been out of frustration of watching people and saying, "That doesn't work" and I've been teaching coaches for decades now and teaching leaders how to coach. From the very beginning, when I first started, I had a number of semiconductor companies ask me, "Could you come teach our leaders some coaching skills; they don't listen really well." So I wrote my la-- the book before Coach the Person was The Discomfort Zone and that was based on I was finding leaders and coaches have such a difficult time with uncomfortable conversations. They don't like to deal with emotions. Yet, emotions often lead to the breakthrough. So I wrote that and said I was done but then I started noticing some patterns show up and when I was mentoring coaches, where they weren't identifying where this conversation is going. So they were chasing the clients and they felt like they were asking very rote, formulaic questions that wasn't connecting with the client and they were still a little uncomfortable with sharing the emotions that they saw.  So I was talking to my publisher, and I said, "I think I need to write another book but this one has to be focused just on coaching. Leaders can use it but it's going to be a coaching book" and he said okay. I'm glad I had that boundary because it's now coaches, all over the world, emailing every day, and say, "Oh! Your book was so helpful, thank you. It clarified a lot of what it is that we're doing." I just want to end, too, with what you just said about the going deeper. You know, coaching is a learning technology. It's not a therapy, it's not a psychology; it's how we learn and change behavior. When we're telling people what to do, we're just working with working memory, cognitive memory, and it doesn't-- there may be some different ways we shift and how we see things but it doesn't change behavior. There's limited capacity and we don't remember; we don't really learn. Coaching, when we go deeper, we're actually going deeper into the brain where there's a rewiring process going on and when I see myself in the world totally differently, I will change my behavior. So I said, "Okay, I gotta put that in a book" and that's how it came about; just out of frustration that coaches weren't going deep enough.

Alex Kudinov   So we're definitely grateful for the book and I guess the part of that gratefulness goes to your publisher for saying, okay, go and write that. So, um, I was thinking about the questions that I was going to ask and something came to mind. So I'm an ESL; English is not my first language and it takes time to learn a new language. It takes time, it takes perseverance. Somebody has this theory of 10,000 hours, which was debunked, but the biggest kind of breakthrough on learning journey was, somebody told me is that, "You need to start talking, you need to stop reading books, you need to stop doing grammar and all that. You just need to go and open your mouth and start talking for goodness sake" Then, I'm thinking about coaching and we have these problems with students, students like, "Well, we are still learning. We don't know what to do. So what do you want us to do?" How do you break through this and basically tell them without practice, you aren't getting anywhere

Marcia Reynolds   First, I want to share with you that school that I went to for coaching, there was only two -- there were three at the time; one was fairly small -- but Thomas Leonard had started Coach You and then he started the ICF. That's how I got involved. He said that. "You have to go coach." In our very first class, we were all on the phone, he said, "Go coach", and we're like, "We haven't had a class. What are you talking about?" He said, "Just go love them" and I'll never forget that. I love my clients, you know, it's that energy connection that helps them to feel safe. Even if I don't have my skills down, and there's no perfection, so if you're trying to achieve perfection, forget it, you'll never do it, but just being present and allowing people to show up fully as themselves, in a way they couldn't do anywhere else. That was powerful. Then, I started adding in the skills and the practice but the second part of this, Alex, is, we don't learn, actually, from practice, in the moment. We learn from reflecting on practice and that's what coaching is. People don't learn from the experiences, they learn from reflecting on the experience with a coach, in a way they can't do for themselves. So this is why we have mentoring groups and masterminds. It's to look at the coaching that we did. I mean, even now with having transcripts and recordings for certification, listen to your recordings. It's the reflection on "Oh, why did I choose to do that?" or "That was-- that really worked!" It's the reflection where you learn, not necessarily practice, but you've got to practice to get the reflection, and it's certainly not for reading books. Although, I have my book behind me. Read and go practice it.

Cherie Silas   So you get a little bit of that information but the competency really comes in in the application and then reflecting back on how you actually apply that. So I'm wondering about what your thoughts are on, why a coach? I've got friends at work, I've got family, I've got all these other people that I could be reflecting on things that I've done and talking to but what makes it different to actually work with a coach?

Marcia Reynolds   Well, number one, when I had just said about, we don't reflect on our own. Our ego actually stops us from going in and looking at, "How do I define myself in this situation?" When I coach leaders, I don't ask them what they did, what was the impact. I say "Define leadership for me" and "What do you think the people on this team, that you present it to, how do you think they would define leadership?" We started looking at the gap and what are they willing to do to be seen as a leader by others? Then they change their behavior but they won't do that on their own because, again, they-- "This is how I defined myself and this is why", and we don't question that. So, the neuroscientists call it external disrupter. We need an external disrupter to disrupt the thinking patterns, because we can't do it ourselves and the external disrupter would then use reflection. "So this is what I heard you saying", summarize and then ask the question and makes you stop and think about what you said and how you see yourself in the world.  It needs to be a coach, because what you said, "I have my friends, I have my..." None of them are objective observers; they're going to want you to see things a certain way based on their perception and so, they're not helpful. Either they're going to stop you from taking a risk or they're going to push you into something before you fully examined it. So, you know, even when I was learning coaching, they said, "Be careful of trying to coach your family members." That's a no coaching zone because there's too many things and it's why the ICF doesn't count when a leader coaches a direct report, they won't count that because there's too many other things messed up in that -- that the leader wants them to do this -- that they cannot be the objective, the external disrupter, that that the coach can provide. So, that's why. So, it's shifts in our thinking and it comes back to, Alex, what you said the 'deep' process; the deep process that changes the wiring in our brain and changes our behavior. We learn and change.

Cherie Silas   Even if the manager feels like they can hold themselves in a neutral space, it's not the same for the employee. There's still that, "Yeah, and I've got to worry about you too."

Marcia Reynolds   Right! They both have bias. They both have bias and blindspots and a blind spot is blind; you can't see your blind spots.

Alex Kudinov   Well that is why they're blind.

Marcia Reynolds   Exactly. So you need someone else to open the door so you can peek through and go "Oh..." So no, I mean, a leader can coach other people, but not their direct reports. So I want to pull this into a direction that...where everybody pretty much starts. Coaching is about asking powerful questions and asking a lot of questions and what's sad, a lot of coaches stop there. They ask questions, and they keep asking questions, and sometimes we saw this, like, this "coaching session" turns into kind of a firing squad of questions.  Yeah, it's a little interrogation.

Alex Kudinov   So what you did in your book, absolutely fantastic thing. It's not something new, it's not something groundbreaking, but you kind of coalesce that into words. The direct communication competency that comes with ICF. You basically pulled it and you said, "It's a reflective inquiry, you basically give a statement, reflective statement, 'Here's what's coming out for me. Here's what I hear. Here's my intuition' and then you ask a question." So you wrap it up into this really nice package. So, and again, not a new concept, but really greatly put together so that it kind of clicked-- it definitely clicked for me. That's how we call it. So how do coaches move from just like, "Yeah, I need to be asking these questions" to feeling more comfortable in giving their reflective statements to the client.

Marcia Reynolds   First, I want to say, it's really sad that, somehow, even some of the coaching schools teach, 'You must ask powerful questions' and, again, if you look at, it's not just direct communications but even the competency of active listening. The first two behavior behavioral markers are, did the person reflect what they heard? The first one is the words. Did they summarize? Did they paraphrase? Did they use metaphor based on what they heard? Then the second marker is, do they reflect emotional shifts? Okay? Not ask questions but reflect. So the intention was always there and we're always looking for that. So, somehow, along the way, that even school started teaching, 'Only ask open questions', I don't know where that came from. Even you know, Michael Bungay Stanier and I had a conversation because his book, The Coaching Habit, you know, the seven questions, and he said to me, "You know, Marcia, I'm not teaching coaches. I'm trying to get leaders to be more curious. So my audience is different than yours. So yes, I want them to start asking these questions but I don't intend for coaches to do this." That's also a problem.  So I want to share that my second Master's Degree, in the late 80s -- I now am aging myself. I have another birthday next week -- was in adult learning. So that's why I'm kind of into learning. I ran training departments for technical companies, first healthcare and then technical companies, for 16 years. I was always looking at what changes behavior; how do people learn? So, I'm a researcher and I learned it was 1910 when John Dewey wrote his book, How We Think. In the first chapter he defined coaching! He wanted teachers to get kids to think more critically and broadly for themselves. So he said, 'First, you reflect.' "So here's what I hear you saying" so they can start listening to themselves because, often, what they say was what their parents told them. So they start listening and then ask questions so they start to examine what it is they're saying. So he wrote this, this was his work, he coined reflective inquiry in 1910, long before the behavioral therapies, decades before the behavioral therapies came into play. Again, that's another piece that has gotten lost along the way. It's reflective inquiry that we do as coaches, not just asking questions. So, I think there's a quote in my book, 'Questions may give you some answers but inquiry will give you insight.' We're doing insight based learning, not fact based learning, insight based learning. So we need to use reflection as well as questions and I'm hoping that the book simplified it, because, frankly, just summarizing what somebody said, using the keywords that popped out. "So when you started this, you're saying that you wanted to create something that seems to be out of control right now, define out of control for me." "So, did you have an expectation of what would happen and now it's not?" "So where are you in that process? Is it totally blown up?" but it starts by me saying, "This is what you said" and then, "I'm curious"

Cherie Silas   I've seen where people are learning coaches, when we talk about the "this is what you said', they go on a long rampage,

Marcia Reynolds   They parrot, yes!

Cherie Silas   Here's the last four paragraphs you said word for word and we're like, "What are they learning from that?"

Marcia Reynolds   That's okay to start there. It's like Alex, you know, practice it. Okay, start there. Start listening for the keywords, you know, mostly the keywords will have some emotional hit. What pops out? What pops out? It's often in the first couple sentences or it could be as they start to tell their story. All of a sudden, it's like, "and let me just tell you..." This woman was talking yesterday, and she was talking about the rehearsal dinner for her son, and it started out really going to be simple, and then they started adding people, and she's having to deal with her ex husband, who's a control freak, and not allowing her to do what she wants. So she's got a little bit of control there, too. But it was picking out, "So here's this celebration, that now seems to be creating frustration and anxiety when you really want to just to celebrate your son. So, do you want to work on how you can clear the space to create an event that you feel good about? Or is it something else in the planning, or even dealing with, you have to come back together with your ex husband and that you'd like to see a way that you can work through that amicably. What part of this process would be important to you?" So again, you hear-- I pulled out keywords. She had a two minute story and I actually interrupted her because this was an exercise, it would have gone on longer, but I just pulled out keywords. She goes, "Ugh, yeah and I am a recovering control freak but he is gonna bring up all this stuff" and so she started into that, and that was clearly what-- that as it got more complex, the relationship with making it worse. But I just gave back to her the key words, and being curious about, "How is this impacting what it is you want to create in terms of celebrating your son?" So we-- this is where the deeper listening comes in. That's the practice and I always say, "Don't listen because then it's an act of listening." I hate that actually. "It's the receiving" What happens when I actively listen, my camera goes out of focus. It'll come back but if I just am totally open and I receive what you give me, the key things are going to start popping out and I share that back with you. Then I'm just curious, 'What does that mean to you and how does that relate to what you want to create?' So it's simple but not...but it's more the practice of listening than it is what you say.

Cherie Silas   Okay, so Marcia, you said something that I can just imagine people are in their seats saying, "What!?! I can't believe she said, interrupt. You don't interrupt clients that's not coaching!" Tell us more about the interrupting.

Marcia Reynolds   Well, first let me say that, what you did not hear was, I said it was an exercise. It was not coaching. Okay, so this was for a session where she had two minutes and then people were gonna share what they noticed. So, I had full permission to interrupt her for the exercise. So, this was not a coaching demonstration -- but it ended up being some coaching for her -- but I do interrupt when people start going-- you know, sometimes we have verbal processors and I will-- I need to hear the story. I never start with, "So what do you want to accomplish today?" They don't know. I start just-- I move into the coaching with, "You had said before we even met the you had a challenge you want to work on, why don't you tell me about that" or "What's coming up for you in terms of your challenges recently" -- and in my clients always come with a list. Here's what I want to work on. And I'll say, okay, so do you bring your list? --  so we get into the conversation, I need to hear their story. I need to hear because, you know, we make decisions and react based on the stories we hold that have all been built from our past experiences, and we take out a story and then we act on it. So I need to hear the story.  As they start repeating the story, then I always move in and ask permission. "So you know, I think before we move on, I just, you know, I'm wondering if I could just share with you some of the main things you said. So, we could just look at, if that's important, or what we might do with that." If I asked permission, they always give it to me. You know, on a rare occasion, they're like, "No, I'm not done." Okay. But that's, you know, only because they're starting to repeat themselves, not because I'm impatient. Often what will happen with people who start verbal processing, they'll start on one track, and they start moving off into other, and that's also a moment to say, "Could I just make sure I understand where we're going with the conversation because you started here, you know, talking about the rehearsal dinner and now you're talking about some very specific things and your relationship. So, what about that would you like to focus on in our time together?" So it's got to be purposeful interruption, not just because you're impatient and you don't want to listen anymore because then we ask permission based on the purpose, and that's how you interrupt. As Julius Ordonez says to me, he goes, "it's called elegant, interrupting, that's what you do." So I'll take that.

Alex Kudinov   Alright, so advice from Marcia Reynolds: don't interrupt inelegantly, interrupt elegantly. Alright, so if we're looking at ICF competencies, and I kind of wouldn't recommend somebody to just dive in to look at ICF competencies, because they're like, "I have no clue what they're talking about here." You're looking at that and you kind of start understanding what this whole thing about 'coaching the whole person' is, right? So we're not talking about what they say, we're talking about what they communicate, which is much more than just the words that coming out of their mouth. So-- and you did such a great job with defining reflective inquiry. Really concise, really succinct, that I can take to my students all day long and they're like, "Oh, now that makes sense what the heck you've been talking about." What's your definition of coaching the person and not the problem? How do you know you actually do that?

Marcia Reynolds   Well, you know, I think the key thing is what I just said about what-- we're coaching their story. You know, their story around the situation. Their story is how they identify, how they see the situation, how they see themselves in that situation, you know, their beliefs, their assumptions, and what's going on around them -- other people, your organization -- that first i want you just-- the beliefs and assumptions or the frames. If I just look at the problem--one of the things I'm reading, some recent research on learning, and they said, 'Problem solving doesn't teach you how to problem solve. You just solve that problem but you don't know how to problem solve going forward because you're using the wrong part of the brain.' So, all you're doing is solving one individual problem, not shifting somebody's perspective so they see themselves and the world around them in a broader way.  So to make this shift, I'm curious about the meaning of the words that you use. I always ask about the words, 'but' and 'should', because 'but' indicates a fear. "I want to do this, but..." Okay, so, you know, a fear and assumption. So I want to look at that fear, that assumption. Assumptions are predictive about the future but they're usually out of our imagination; we're making it up. So I want to look at that and the word 'should'. The interesting thing is, how many other cultures that the word 'should' comes up even more than here in the United States -- I teach for coaching schools in China, Russia, and the Philippines and I have worked with coaches all over the world -- and so the word 'should' indicates a conflict of values. I mean, then the question, I don't like giving people questions, because I want it to be spontaneous but the good question is, "How are your shoes getting in the way of what you want?" but the 'should's are, it's like, "Who's saying 'should'? Are you saying it to yourself? Is it other people in the organization? 'You should do this.' Is it your family?"  I was coaching this woman in China, and she's like, "Well, but everybody's telling me I shouldn't leave this job -- but I'm so bored and I hate it -- but that I should stay; that I'm lucky to be here." It's like, "You should stay in a job you hate. You hear that? So how long are you willing to live by that 'should'?" Just simple things like that, how powerful that is for someone. She held onto her 'should' 'til later that day. She came back to me and said, "Okay, I got it now" because there's a very strong 'should'. So, the beliefs, the assumptions, the needs -- "but this is what I need" -- the values, the conflicts of values, this is what blinds us. You know, the old blind spot or the avoidance of what I don't want to look at, that we can't make our best choices until we do. As a coach, I'm just helping you see beyond your story but you can't see beyond the story to you actually see the story. So I need to reflect you what I hear so you see your story out here. That's what John Dewey said, "It's like climbing a tree in your brain looking down on your story." So, I'm taking the story out of your brain, and you're looking at it in an objective way, which you can't do yourself, and going, "Oh, wow, that's a funky story. That's getting in my way" and then we can look beyond the story to what else is possible. That's going to have a much greater impact on your future than just solving an external problem out here, which doesn't change your behavior and you don't learn from that. I'm talking to a lot of people who are changing careers or looking to move up, I hear that a lot. "I'm just lucky to be employed these days." I'm like, "It doesn't sound too lucky to me. Not at least the way you kind of say this to me." Actually, that's changing. You know, a lot of people during the pandemic, there's a lot of research that said, they finally stopped and said, "I hate that job. I'm not going back." So, a lot of companies, that are saying they can't they can't find good people to hire, that's because the good people said, "Oh! I'm not going back to that." Here they want to blame it on, 'Oh, they got stimulus money or unemployment.' No, they just don't want to work for you. So when that money dries up and they still don't have the good people, they're gonna have to look at themselves. It's like, "What kind of environment are we offering? What kind of a leader am I? So we probably have time for another question and I want to hit on something you actually mentioned twice, you mentioned being present. In your book, it's one of my highlights that you're saying being present is more important than being perfect. Yeah. So what is being present in coaching for you? Yeah, actually, I came up with that in The Discomfort Zone, because we avoid conversation, so we think we can handle it. First off, there's no-- in any discipline -- you know, I took martial arts for years and so this is embedded in me -- you don't get perfect, you just get better, and then the discipline is the practice. Then, we look at it,  "So what could I do better?" and so mastery is a journey. There's no, like, perfect coach; I'm not a perfect coach. Yesterday, while I was doing a demo, she said something about her father, and I instantly went back to my, I have a Doctorate in Psychology, I had, like, "Oh, I know what's wrong with him." and then I'm like, "Stop that" and I had to let it go so I could come back to presence. That's the practice. So if you're so stuck on, "I can't coach till I get it right" or the thinking about process, "Okay, so what question do I ask next?", and "Did I get the outcome?", and "Am I going to ask enough open questions?" You're not present! You're in your own head and you will miss the key moments; you will miss them. So work on your presence, and then you'll just get better within your skills over time. You know, people always say, 'How do you do what you do?' Well, I started coaching school 26 years ago, okay? It took me years. Every year, I'd look back and say, "Wow, what was I doing last year, I wasn't really coaching." You know, so we just get better.

Cherie Silas   26 years. You've got a ton to teach the world and we've loved the learning that we've gotten from you. So if people want to learn from you now, what are some of the things that they should be reaching out to you for?

Marcia Reynolds   Well, you know, my website is and I, monthly, post a blog post there. There's resources to use around the book. Actually, if you put in Coach the Person Resources, there's a secret page that has videos and handouts and things that I had created when I launched the book. So there's your secret page that will help you to implement all the things I teach in the book. You can find me on LinkedIn. That's where I communicate the most on social media.

Cherie Silas   Wonderful. We're gonna go check out that page as soon as we're done here. It's been wonderful having you Marcia. We're honored to be able to spend some time with you and I know that our listeners are going to get great benefit from this conversation today. So thank you.

Marcia Reynolds   You're so welcome. Thank you for asking me to be here.

Cherie Silas   You're welcome and everyone, this is Tandem Coaching Academy's Keeping Agile Coaching Non-Denominational. We're your hosts Alex Kudinov and I, Cherie Silas. Goodbye.

About Episode Guest

Dr Marcia Reynolds

Dr. Marcia Reynolds, MCC helps coaches and leaders make every conversation a difference-making experience. In addition to coaching leaders and professionals in multi-national companies and government agencies, she has provided coaching and coach training in 43 countries, speaks at conferences around the world and has presented for Harvard Kennedy School and Cornel University. She is the creater of the renowned WBECS program, Breakthrough Coaching.

Marcia was the 5th global president of the International Coach Federation and recently inducted into ICF’s Circle of Distinction for her contributions to the global coaching community. Global gurus lists her as the #4 coach in the world.

Excerpts from Marcia’s books Outsmart Your Brain; The Discomfort Zone; and Wander Woman have appeared in business and psychological publications world-wide. Her latest international bestseller, Coach the Person, Not the Problem: A Guide to Using Reflective Inquiry, was released June of 2020 to rave reviews by coaches and organizational leaders worldwide.

Marcia’s two hobbies are 1) collecting degrees – she holds a doctorate in organizational psychology and two masters degrees in learning psychology and communications and 2) hiking the wonderful spots in Arizona, including right outside her front door!

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