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New Year, New Stuff

Before I start my newsletter about acknowledgments in coaching, there are a couple of other acknowledgments to make. (I didn't plan that, it just worked out.)

First, things out there in the world seem bad. Australia is on fire (and probably the Amazon still is too, although that's not in the news today). One hundred and seventy-three people, including a schoolmate of my children, died in a plane crash outside Tehran which (the news currently says) might have been inadvertently caused by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.

I don't know, I guess things are always awful, but they seem particularly awful tonight. So I want to acknowledge that, as I write this from my safe, happy home, people are struggling and grieving. If you are among them, I am sorry.

Second, and speaking of my safe and happy home, that home is situated in the city of Toronto, on land which for thousands of years has been part of the traditional territories of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Haudenosaunee, the Anishinaabe and the Huron-Wendat. Today, this meeting place is still home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island, and I am glad to be able to live and work here.

I cribbed most of that land acknowledgment from a couple of websites (University of Toronto, City of Toronto, OCAD U). I am struggling to find the words to explain why I am including it, but for now I'll just say I'm trying to be better about publicly recognizing historical and ongoing injustices and complexities. It's a work in progress.

I See


There are a bunch of skills that coaches learn and develop, including listening, asking powerful questions, creating space for the client to be vulnerable, and something called acknowledgement. I struggle with acknowledgement, so today I'm going to try and explain it to you. When I'm done, either I will understand acknowledgement better or I will have dragged you all down with me.

Acknowledgement is the art of seeing something about someone, and saying it out loud. Simple, but the devil is in the details. What can you see, and then how do you say it?

You can see struggle. You can see strength or courage. You can see joy, relief, love, commitment, sacrifice. You can see fear. You can see hope.

You can see how someone is using their strengths to meet challenges, and you can see how someone is living in to their values. (In order to do that, you have to know what the person's strengths and values are — knowledge about our clients that coaches collect and hoard like magpies.)

The next step is the saying. For me, sometimes it's easy and sometimes it's nearly impossible. I don't have much trouble acknowledging emotions: "There's fear there." "I can see that you're really excited." Just a sympathetic murmur or gasp of indignation can act as acknowledgment, because it's recognition of an emotion or a difficult situation.

But when it comes to acknowledging strengths and values, my brain grinds to a halt. It's so personal, and so direct. And strengths and values are not topics that we talk about much, so the language doesn't come naturally.

But for the sake of illustration, here are some possible ways to voice acknowledgments:
  • I hear that you're living into your value of simplicity by choosing to spend your vacation at home.
  • You honoured your value of community by choosing to join the parent council.
  • It took courage to speak to your boss about changing the schedule — I know how nervous you were about her reaction.
  • I hear your strength of peacemaking at play when you describe how the meeting went.
Okay, in my defence, acknowledgement can be kind of weird and contrived. But much of what makes coaching effective is weird and contrived, and acknowledging is effective.

At the most basic level, acknowledgement is validation of an emotion: sometimes all you need is for someone else to see what you're going through. Acknowledgment can help someone see themselves more clearly — sometimes we have strengths we don't see, use our strengths unconsciously, or make decisions which honour our values without realizing it. When those things are pointed out, you know yourself better.

For me, what gets in the way of acknowledging is the awkwardness of it, and how personal it is. But it's an important and powerful part of being a coach, so I'll keep working on it.


Try This At Home


When emotions are high, you can often disarm them with an acknowledgment. It can be as simple as saying, "That's frustrating." "You're really mad." "You feel really strongly about this." (And then take a verbal step back, because once the person realizes you're actually listening they will probably start to dig deeper.)

Acknowledging is something you can do instead of giving advice when someone comes to you with a problem. I've written before about the futility of giving advice — acknowledging someone's difficulty or reminding them of a strength is a nice alternative, and gives them space to figure out what they should do next on their own terms.

Finally, you can acknowledge yourself. At the end of the day, think about what you achieved, and recognize how your strengths and values supported and guided you.

What's NewMy hair is way shorter now

The most interesting thing I'm doing in January is going to Berlin for a week on vacation. If you have any suggestions about cool stuff to do (or people to meet) in Berlin, let me know.

The second most interesting thing I'm doing in January is being a TA for the Foundations of Professions Coaching course at the Adler Graduate Professional School. Back when I took Foundations myself in November 2018 the TA seemed so worldly and cool. Hah — now I know the truth! Seriously, I am delighted to be able to work with my teacher and mentor Robin Altman, and I'm looking forward to revisiting all the Foundations material with a year of experience under my belt.

Fun and Interesting

  • Feelings can make us smarter and sharpen real world skills. Eric Barker distills five ways to be more emotionally intelligent. New Neuroscience Reveals 5 Secrets That Will Make You Emotionally Intelligent [bakadesuyo.com]
  • We, as an industry, are horrible at accepting name changes for folks. Penelope Phippen writes about her experience changing her name, and how poor coding decisions and thoughtlessness made the experience harder than it should be. She also has concrete suggestions about what to do differently. Changing your name is a hard unsolved problem in Computer Science [dev.to]
  • You’re responsible for sound, lighting, wardrobe, backdrop, and quiet on the set. I attend a lot of webinars and online meetings, and I'm sometimes surprised by how crappy people let themselves look — bad lighting and weird angles are distracting, unflattering, and usually entirely under your control. Rachel Sklar has some solid tips on how to approach video chat in Video Chat Is the New Public Speaking. [medium.com]

Thank you for reading this far!

If you like what you read, hit reply and let me know, or forward it and let someone else know. If you have questions or comments, hit reply and let me know. If you have seen something interesting out there, hit reply and let me know. Are you seeing a trend here? If so... hit reply and let me know! I look forward to hearing from you. ❤️

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