Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Become a Positive Provocateur ~ How discomfort can help your clients get the most from coaching

We are pleased to share an article entitled Become a Positive Provocateur ~ How discomfort can help your clients get the most from coachingwritten by David Morelli.

How often do you intentionally make others uncomfortable? If you’re like most, probably not often. In coaching, you may feel that your job is to make clients comfortable, to help them feel safe, and to empathize with them. That’s true.

However, what does making them comfortable cost you – and them? Is it possible that you offer too much comfort? Is being “nice” perhaps preventing them from getting the full value from coaching? These three questions express the Provocateur style, and as coaches, we may not ask them often enough.

According to my research and the discovery of the seven RESPECT Coaching Styles, every style is incredibly important and powerful, including the Provocateur.

In a prior choice Magazine article, “Coaching Styles Revolution” (V21N3), I shared the history of coaching styles and how they are changing our understanding of coaching. The seven styles are:

➤ Rallier

➤ Educator

➤ Strategist

➤ Provocateur

➤ Explorer

➤ Confidant

➤ Transformer

Each style has a purpose and is necessary for masterful coaching. However, according to the RESPECT Coaching Styles assessment data from thousands of coaches, the most-used style is Confidant and the least used is Provocateur.

The Confidant style is about creating comfort and connection by listening deeply, empathizing, and showing compassion for the challenges and experiences in life and work. The Confidant style creates trust and safety and is essential to great coaching. Most of us do this very well. What we don’t do well is consciously elicit discomfort.

In stark contrast to Confidant is Provocateur. Provocateur is about challenging people’s thoughts, pointing out discrepancies between their words and actions, and helping them to question their assumptions. It’s about helping people squirm and scrutinize for the sake of being more aligned and truthful – with themselves and others.

Let’s take a scenario to illustrate. Imagine someone comes to you feeling frustrated. They complain about a project and say that their boss never listens. They feel disappointed and disempowered. What approach – or style – would you choose?

If you’re like most, you’d listen, empathize, and be compassionate. If so, you’d be using Confidant. However, if you would challenge them, point out their excuses and bring them face-to-face with their role in the situation, you’d be using Provocateur.

Provocateur is about positive discomfort. It’s about ownership. It’s about confronting the truth within ourselves and our situations. When we let people off the hook, we rob them of the chance to reclaim their power. We subtly support their story. This reinforces their belief of being at the mercy of the world and their experiences.

The opportunity to question, rethink, and face the truth within ourselves and our circumstances is the gift of Provocateur.

In interviews with those who’ve received Provocateur style coaching, coachees report feeling more alive, aligned and powerful. They talk about feeling relieved by having been called out. They say things like, “I knew I was lying to myself, but I couldn’t figure out how. I needed that!”

Now, let’s look at what Provocateur is not:

➤ It’s not about discomfort for discomfort’s sake. Rather, discomfort evokes increased growth, ownership and awareness.

➤ It’s not about belittling, judging or being mean. Rather, it’s about shining the light on something they don’t want to see.

➤ It’s not about shoving their noses in it – it’s about facing the uncomfortable truth with courage

Each of the RESPECT Coaching Styles can be expressed directly or indirectly. For instance, in my doctoral dissertation research that birthed the RESPECT Coaching Styles, I interviewed a coach who works with the executive team at one of the world’s top three universities. She said that when she challenges someone (part of the Provocateur style) she has a range of expressions.

In the interview, she said, “Sometimes, I’m really direct and just say, ‘You’re full of $#!+!’ But other times, it’s sort of medium, like, ‘It sounds like this could be a violation.’ But if their ego is triggered, I say, ‘Hmm, let’s put a pin in that and come back to it.’ So I vary what I say and how I say it based on the situation.”

Every style can be expressed dynamically this way, within a spectrum of directness and indirectness. To become a truly masterful coach, you must express the full range of styles using the right blend of directness and indirectness – including Provocateur. But how do you know when and with whom to use it?

Every coachee wants a different mix of coaching styles. For this purpose, I developed the RESPECT Coachee Preference Assessment based on my coaching styles research. For the first time, it enables the coachee to rate the ways they want to be coached, from a styles perspective. Based on the data, everyone has a distinct mix of preferences – like fingerprints. This means we need to move dynamically between all styles. However, preliminary data suggests that on average, Provocateur is more strongly requested by coachees than Confidant with a ratio of 2 to 1.

I had to learn to trust this myself. Early in the development of the coachee assessment, I asked a brand-new executive coaching client to take it. According to the results, she rated 10 out of 10 on Provocateur and 10 out of 10 on directness.

When I saw the results, I felt my own discomfort. It was our first meeting! Should I trust the results and use direct Provocateur, or default to my typical onboarding approach – a lot of Confidant, then a healthy blend of other styles?

I decided to trust the assessment results – direct Provocateur – even if it meant losing her as a client. I said, “Hi, I’m David. How are you lying to yourself right now?” She looked shocked. Then she sat forward. She listed out several lies. Then I said, “And what painful results have you caused with those lies?” Her face contorted and her voice changed. She revealed the gut-wrenching consequences of her avoidance and deceit.

By asking question after question – for an entire hour – I helped her challenge her assumptions, stories and self-deceit. She squirmed. She groaned. She sighed. Inside, so did I. At the end, my nerves were zinging. I’d gone all in. I thought, “Did I blow it?” I said, “Okay, that’s all for today. What are you taking away?” I braced for impact.

She said, “That was the best coaching session I’ve EVER had, and I’ve had a lot of them! Thank you SO much! I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to not have someone believe my B.S.! I’m so excited to work with you!”

As I left the session, I felt alive! I’d come face to face with my own fears. I tested the limits of Provocateur – and the results shocked me. In that moment, I realized that being a Provocateur is not about me. It’s about the client. Their breakthrough. Their freedom. Their power.

If coaching is about serving clients, our styles choices should answer the question, “What do they need?” rather than, “What am I comfortable with?” What discomfort must you face to fulfill your fullest coaching potential? What assumptions, about yourself or about coaching, must you challenge in the process?

The reality is that we need all the styles. Too much Confidant runs the risk of being overly nice. Too much Provocateur runs the risk of coming across as an a-hole. But you can blend the two – creating the experience of, “I care enough about you to call you out.” This is being a Positive Provocateur.

The endless richness of coaching comes from having all styles available to you, including style blends – directly and indirectly. The variations are infinite if you allow the styles and expressions to expand you, but they must include Provocateur. 

To begin using more Provocateur, it’s easiest to start out being indirect. For example, you could ask: “In what ways might you be avoiding something right now?” or, “What assumptions could be worth questioning?”

As we step back, there are bigger implications of Provocateur. If we’re going to create a more equitable world, we must challenge our lies and biases – implicit and explicit. Provocateur arouses us from the slumber that numbs our aliveness and shrouds our full potential.

Now the question is, “After reading this, will you go back to sleep … or wake up others?”

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