Guess what, gang? Our brains are programmed for status. We seek status, we evaluate status, we constantly compare our status to other people’s. We feel good (our brains release the happy chemical dopamine) when we feel we have more status than others, and feel bad (and even eat and spend more) when we don’t. If I feel my status is somehow threatened, it can (and often does) kick up what Daniel Goleman calls an “amygdala hijack” — that state of being when we are flooded with chemicals that make us desire nothing more than to fight or flee. Not a good prescription for learning.
How does this relate to coaching? Well, I think it is more proof that we are optimizing the brain in our profession (and as we teach leaders and managers to be more “coach-like” and use these skills). Coaches approach their clients from the fundamental view that we are NOT the experts or the teachers, but that our job is to help people find their own answers within. This helps flatten out the issue of status, in effect taking it off the table in the relationship. As a coach, I don’t need to prove that I have more knowledge than my client. As a client, I don’t need to prove anything to my coach. We are co-equals who have designed a relationship in service of one of us.
At CTI, we have a phrase that we use, and I have come to love over the years. We hold our clients — and actually, everyone — Naturally Creative, Resourceful, and Whole. Having lived with this view for over ten years now, I think it may have helped reprogram my brain (at least a little) around the issue of status. I have come to see the real truth in these words, and when I view people and myself this way, it somehow isn’t as compelling to evaluate my own relative greatness or smallness relative to them. This is, I think, a very good thing.