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Helping people change

Updated: Aug 11, 2020

BY Andrea Seydel Live Life Happy Podcast/Bookclub/Blog

HELPING PEOPLE CHANGE: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth


Helping others is a good thing. Often, as a leader, manager, doctor, teacher, or coach, it's central to your job. But even the most well-intentioned efforts to help others can be undermined by a simple truth: We almost always focus on trying to "fix" people, correcting problems or filling the gaps between where they are and where we think they should be. Unfortunately, this doesn't work well, if at all, to inspire sustained learning or positive change.

Richard Boyatzis, Melvin Smith and Ellen Van Oosten teach us that there's a better way. The way to help someone learn and change, they say, cannot be focused primarily on fixing problems, but instead must connect to that person's positive vision of themselves or an inspiring dream or goal they've long held. This is what great coaches do - they know that people draw energy from their visions and dreams, and that same energy sustains their efforts to change, even through difficult times.

Do you often find you are trying to help someone - but it doesn't always work?

The heart of helping: How to really help others learn and grow

To make changes stick, research shows that it has to be intentional and internally motivated rather than imposed from the outside. That’s why coaching with compassion starts with a person articulating the ideal self or vision they have for themselves. NOT shoulds or outside mandates.

There are polarized conversation in so many areas of our lives, this book sets out to help people develop the skills to listen with empathy to one another. Only by focusing on what really matters to People can we help them learn and grow. This book teaches a different way to inspire learning and change.

By focusing on others and truly helping them, we can build toward a better future in our families, teams, organizations, and communities. With this book, they offer a way to tap into people’s desires to learn and change, to motivate themselves and others, and to lead in more compassionate ways. EXAMPLE: I wish ... knew...

Conversations that inspire: Discovering what is most important

EXERCISE: think of a time in your life when someone coached you in a way that really made you think, a time when someone sparked that flame inside of you around your passion and it changed the trajectory of your life.

Think about how they made you feel—Hopeful? Motivated? Full of ideas and possibilities? Most likely they also showed genuine care and concern for you. Perhaps they helped you realize and appreciate who you are when you are at your best. They may have helped you envision a future for yourself that was exciting and energizing. They also probably offered their unconditional support to help you achieve whatever it was you wished.

It’s important to distinguish those people who helped you from others who perhaps tried to help you but somehow fell short of the mark. Far from filling you with hope, those people left you feeling discouraged, inadequate, or forced into a box of their making—not yours.

Great coaches inspire, encourage, and support others in the pursuit of their dreams and the achievement of their full potential.They call this coaching with compassion. They call the contrast to this with coaching for compliance, in which a coach attempts to move an individual toward some externally defined objective.

Coaching with compassion: Inspiring sustained, desired change

A proven method of coaching with compassion in a way that leads to sustained desired change is to guide an individual through Boyatzis’s model of intentional change

Coaching with compassion begins by helping a person explore and clearly articulate her ideal self and a personal vision for her future. This often means helping her tease out the distinction between her “ideal” self and “ought” self.

To help individuals build self-awareness, ensure that they consider their strengths and weaknesses in the context of their personal vision statement first. A useful tool for this is the personal balance sheet (PBS). The PBS guides the individual to consider assets (strengths) and liabilities (gaps or weaknesses). To ignite the energy for change, coaches should encourage those they help to focus two to three times more attention on strengths than weaknesses.

Rather than creating performance improvement plans in which individuals focus on their shortcomings, the learning agenda should focus on behavior changes that they feel most excited to try—changes that would help them grow closer to their ideal self. Coaches should encourage individuals to practice new behaviors beyond the point of comfort. Only continual practice leads to mastery.

Rather than relying solely on a coach for support, individuals need to develop a network of trusted, supportive relationships to assist them in their change efforts.Coaches must be aware of and effectively manage the emotional tone of the coaching conversations

REFLECTION: Have there been times where you have felt genuinely self-directed in pursuit of your own dreams and aspirations? How did these times in your life feel? Have there been times in the past where you felt a disconnect between the person you would like to be and the person you were? How did you feel in such moments?

Awakening the desire to change: Questions that spark joy, gratitude, and curiosity

REFLECTION: Think over the course of the day, observe, think about your own emotions. Note what you were doing at that particular time, and how you felt in that moment. What do you notice about your ratio of positive to negative emotions?

Often as coaches, teachers, parents etc. our mistake is in thinking—and often assuming—that we can see what the person should do to lead a better life, be more productive, or learn more. Trying to fix triggers a negative response.

Asking someone a positive question awakens the PEA, (Positive Emotion Attractor) activating a specific network in the brain that triggers hormones in the parasympathetic nervous system (renewal). Asking a negative question or questions that pulls a defensive response arouses the NEA, (Negative Emotion Attractor) activating a different network in the brain, which triggers hormones in the sympathetic nervous system (stress).

The PEA is both a state of being open to new ideas and a tipping point along the path of sustained, desired change. Coaching with compassion (i.e., coaching to the PEA) serves both purposes. The PEA is being in PNS arousal; feeling positive and hopeful. The NEA is being in SNS arousal; feeling negative and defensive or fearful. Emotions are contagious, both positive and negative emotions. The contagion spreads at fast speeds (often in milliseconds) and is predominantly below conscious awareness.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that asking the right questions ultimately opens people up to what’s possible in their lives, including sustainable change. Yet many coaches and other helpers fail to do that. Instead, they coach for compliance. Although invoking the PEA might seem counterintuitive when you are focused on trying to help someone, it is the most effective way to awaken a person’s motivation to learn and change.

Survive and thrive: The battle in your brain

As humans, we aspire to not just survive but also to thrive. We need both the PEA and NEA. To sustain a change or learning process, a person needs to regularly cycle into the PEA two to five times more often than being in the NEA.

When we try to help people as coaches, managers, or other kinds of helpers, we guide them to engage in both the PEA and NEA, and to find the best balance between PEA and NEA at that time in their life and work. Renewal activities in smaller doses in terms of time and more frequent episodes of renewal activities are better than longer, less frequent ones.

Renewal using a variety of activities is better than using the same one or two repeatedly. The PEA enables us to thrive by activating renewing, stress-alleviating hormones that produce feelings of safety,, and even joy. The NEA helps us survive by activating our stress hormonal response to a threat, namely fight, flight, or freeze.

Our brains use two dominant networks of neurons regarding learning and change: the analytic network (AN) and the empathic network (EN). We need the AN to solve problems, analyze things, make decisions, and focus. We need the EN to be open to new ideas, scan the environment for trends or patterns, and be open to others and their emotions, as well as moral concerns. We need both of these networks. Because they are antagonistic and suppress each other, we need to balance time spent in each one.

REFLECTION: Think about your week. What NEA experiences or activities can you avoid, minimize, or eliminate in your life and work? What PEA activities or experiences can you do more of during each week, either more frequently or for a longer duration? Also, explore which renewal activities you used typically? What activities could you add?

The power of a personal vision: Dreams, not just goals

A clear and compelling personal vision can transform your life. Having a personal vision helps me to prioritize and prepare for the future. Creating a vision can be best considered as a process of crafting that requires us to be imaginative and creative. The best way to help someone identify their ideal self and convey their personal vision is to encourage them to dream.

A personal vision is a holistic, comprehensive expression of a person’s ideal self and ideal future, including dreams, sense of calling, passion, purpose, and core values. A personal vision should be more like a visual dream than specific goals.A personal vision should be highly important and meaningful to the person. Although some aspects of a person’s personal vision will change during various phases of life and work, others, such as core values and a sense of purpose, often remain the same.

EXERCIESE: 1. Catch Your Dreams: Using the notes, list things you would like to do or experience in your lifetime until you get to twenty-seven. These are things that you’ve not yet begun or completed. After your best attempt to write as many as possible, group them into themes. For example professional development, recreation. 2. MY VALUES: Identify which are most important to you and are guiding principles in your life. Pick from a list of values. Narrow down to my Five Most Important Values. 3. WINNING THE LOTTERY: You’ve just won the super lottery and received $80 million. How would your life and work change? 4. A DAY IN YOUR LIFE . . . FIFTEEN YEARS FROM NOW

Cultivating a resonant relationship: Listen beyond what you hear

First, remember that flourishing is the main goal. Above all else, our primary aim in coaching is to help others realize their aspirations and grow into the best version of themselves. Borrowing language from Barbara Frederickson, the spirit of the coach’s work is to broaden and build—it is never to manipulate or control.

cornerstones of coaching:First, believe that individual change is a process, not an event. Second, consider your approach to coaching as a chance to mine for gold, not dig for dirt. Third, consider that the agenda for the conversation should come from the person being coached. FINALLY, the most important ingredient for establishing a high-quality coaching relationship is being fully present and being mindful of yourself as well as the other person. Listen beyond what you hear.

The relationship between a coach and coachee or helper and person being helped is the heart of any developmental relationship. The relationship needs to be resonant to be high quality, which means it is characterized by an overall positive emotional tone, a shared vision, and shared compassion. Stay focused on the other person, not on the process or the problem. Let the person drive the agenda more often than you do. Deep, active listening on the part of the coach is fundamental and essential to build high-quality helping relationships.

Recognizing coachable moments: Seize the opportunity

Recognizing coachable moments so that we can effectively capitalize on them and being able to handle challenging cases in addition to the “easy” ones are important for coaches, managers, and anyone else trying to help another person. Capitalizing on coachable moments often involves assessing and potentially enhancing the readiness of the individual to be coached

Think about the last time you encountered someone who was in the midst of what we have described in this chapter as a coachable moment. Did you recognize and treat it as a coachable moment? How did the person respond? Was she ready to be coached? Can you think of coachable moments in one aspect of your life and work?

the call of compassion an invitation to dream

Most of us care about others and try to help them. The source of our caring may be a desire to inspire people with whom we work to learn and grow or to protect our children or others. It might also be a desire to help others improve their performance or live up to their potential. All of these desires are noble but can easily lead us to do the exact opposite of what we intend.

We can quickly slide into trying to fix others or prescribing specific ways to change. Even with the best of intentions, people cannot inspire and help others to learn and grow when they slip into the NEA themselves. The personal sustainability of the helper or coach is central to the ability to continue effectively helping others be open, develop, and change.

CHALLENGE: In the next month, each day have just one fifteen- to twenty-minute conversation with a different person to help them discover and connect with the best version of themselves, their values, dream life, desired work, or personal vision.

Their deepest wish from this book, is that you will feel the hope, compassion, mindfulness, and playfulness that can result from caring for others and inspiring them to enhance their lives. That is the promise of coaching with compassion.


MindMeister: Online Mind Mapping and Brainstorming (link)

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