Life Coaching and Training – Be careful with justifying “tough love” in training and coaching

Success and Life Coach Martin Brossman giving a Keynote addressWhen I teach or coach. I love having just enough edge to keep people engaged. But I have discovered that if you go too far you can injure, or drive people away.  As Pat Howlett says, I have made every mistake in the book at least once and sometimes seem to have to repeat it a few times before I learn from it. One time I made a very mild joking comment to a guy in a class I was teaching and then, after the break, noticed he had left. I had a gut sense something was off and called the woman in charge. She checked with him and found out that he thought I was making fun of him in front of the class.  From my perspective, I had actually made a comment with the intention to validate him, but my intention did not matter. Communication is based on the response you get, not what YOU think you communicated. Not attending to this is not teaching, it is broadcasting, poorly. I got permission to talk to him and said, I notice that you left and am concerned I may have said something to offend you. He said no (which did not match what I knew) and I said, in a different way, the validating statement I made to him. He then said that someone “might” have misunderstood that and I thanked him for pointing that out. I was driving back home at the time and we talked for about 30 min. He then told me what he was doing and I made my best effort to give him real added value for the time, followed by making sure he could get access to the content he missed.

This experience helped tune me in to recognize what seems to be a trend in justifying a type of “tough love,” even from presenters and coaches. For example, asking questions in front of the room like, “Who STILL does not have a Facebook page?” in a tone that is showing those who raise their hands as stupid, like that presenter has the right to embarrass someone in front of the room.  If you are going to be tough you have to have earned enough trust to do it .And if it is in the room you have to make sure you leave them highly empowered. I truly have made this mistake before but now I watch that edge very carefully.  It is the line between being evocative and provocative.

For a coaching example, I remember one day where I had two very different clients (the details have been changed some to protect confidentiality).  The one in morning was a former line backer. Very big and tall, an intimidating guy and really smart. We were not making progress and I don’t take money from people I cannot make progress with. Most of the time I just come to an agreement to take a break and sometimes I see it is valuable for them to take a break to integrate what we have done, so they know they can do it on their own. Half way through our session in his office I just laid into him about the fact that I was going to fire him if his BS of manipulation did not stop right now. I then described in great detail the strategy I had figured out about how he manipulated people. He was almost pinned up against the wall with me letting him have it. He agreed to work, and I will never forget two things: the look in his secretary’s eyes when I left, and his walking me to my car with tears in his eyes when he said “Thanks, I really did not realize how I intimidate and manipulate to get my way, and how much life I have missed doing that.” Then that afternoon I worked with a women who said, “To figure out what I need to do next in my life I would have to bring a bunch of stuff to your office and show it to you.  We both sat on the floor with the things around us, and I had her take her time to explain each item and how it moved her. I asked questions and made sure I understood each item. Then I really came up with the core purpose of her life and how it tied to what she needed to do to feed herself. Clearly the same “tough love” approach I had used earlier with the linebacker would have been true violence to this gentle client.

Using the right level of engagement is what is required. My commitment in teaching and in coaching is to do my best to see through the eyes of every person in front of me and speak to that, even if it is 500 people. Listen to what really is needed, not simply applying one technique or another. If a little toughness is needed I make sure I have earned the right to use that by demonstrating compassion first. If I make a mistake, I also make the effort to clean it up–not try to justify it by making something wrong with them.  My commitment is to come from compassion and to be willing to do what it takes to make my clients’ and students’ goals a reality. Sometimes I do a great job with that and sometimes I need to learn something new.  At times advisers wanted me to move away from being a “coach” since almost every one calls themselves a coach today and  it really is not a profession like lawyer or doctor. To me coaching is what I do…being in the trenches with my clients as though it is my life at stake…not being a tough drill sergeant on the sidelines or just a cheerleader.

I welcome your honest views on this and if you would like to discuss coaching or training with you contact me.
Martin Brossman
Success coach, Trainer, Author
Be well,
Martin Brossman
Raleigh NC (919) 847-4757 – Washington DC (202) 362-3166




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