Many of us have been brought up to believe that we should “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” which in plain English means “treat people as you’d like them to treat you”.
Sounds good, until you think about it carefully. If we follow this rule we end up urging others to do what WE decide will be good for them!
With this very common attitude if I like football, bananas and fuzzy slippers, I assume that everyone else does too. And my way of treating family or friends is to make them watch football, eat bananas and wear fuzzy slippers.
This is the mentality behind many traditional coaches also. “If I were in your shoes I’d…” Our well-intentioned and probably useless advice is based on what we’d do in their shoes. But we are not in their shoes… they are.
For example, I have a dear friend that seems to have an unspoken expectation that if you go to his home for dinner, you will not leave until all food is eaten. Your protestations that you have had enough and do not want anything else are treated as a joke – “of course you’ll have some more, why wouldn’t you!” And more food appears on your plate alongside the others that you’ve earlier protested you didn’t want.
It’s done with the best of intentions. They ignore our choices because they assume that we are all alike and that we will therefore like what they like!
They (and this includes the majority of us) believe there is no need to ask us what we would like or how we would like to be treated. Because, good intentions are good enough!
With this very common mentality you do not need to check whether the other person is happy with your advice, generosity or hospitality because the attitude is supported by another one… it is enough to have good intentions!
As long as I mean well you should be grateful for what I do for you… whether you want it or not. Whether or not it is appropriate. Whether or not you like it.
For example, if I’m the breadwinner in the household and money is tight it is, OK for me to go out and buy you some expensive present that we cannot afford! And you have to be grateful… because I meant well.
It doesn’t matter that my gesture means we need to go short on some essentials such as food or clothing or heating. Or that you didn’t want the gift in the first place. I meant well so you should be grateful!
There’s usually an un-stated threat with this type of generosity… if you do not accept my gesture with an appropriate display of gratitude, then I will pout!
“Why aren’t you grateful! How can you treat me this way? I was only thinking of you… and after all the thought and effort I put into it!” And on and on.
In a course that I attended, we began with a walk around the property. We walked through the different terrain, around a lake, and we watched and listened to the wildlife. Half way through we stopped to look at the view and have a conversation about what most impressed us.
And, it was eye opening that what most impresses each of us, differs considerably. One will have noticed the squirrels. Another the silver bark on the trees by the lake. Or the smell of the woods after the rain. Or the loudness of the bird singing. Or the stillness of the air.
The purpose of this little exercise is to emphasize that each of us has a different frame of reference.Different tastes. Different views. Different ways of thinking. Different needs. And different ways of being impressed. Each of us experiences the world differently. We are each unique.
And real communication means putting aside our ASSUMPTIONS about people. Especially the assumption that we are all alike. It means coming to each conversation as a “blank slate” and treating each person as a unique individual. It means finding out what a person likes, thinks, needs, etc. It means asking rather than assuming!
Real communication does take a little longer. You put aside your assumptions, and spend time learning about the person. You do less transmitting and a lot more receiving. Less talking, more listening.
The old ‘I know what people want’ approach is not just sloppy and ineffective it is also a pretty disrespectful way of communicating when you are trying to coach someone.
A key principle in being an Elite Coach is that we respect the other person’s “Frame of Reference”. This means that we respect a person’s right to be different – to have their own beliefs, tastes, interests, values, etc. even if these are quite different to our own.
We aim to value the differences between us and learn from these. And the traditional way of treating people… as you’d like to be treated… is dramatically opposed to this.
This last point is not always as easy as it sounds! For example, you are likely to have had the experience where someone asks you a question about your feelings or views and, as you begin to answer, you notice they have apparently lost interest! They may be looking at you, but the blank look in their eyes indicates that their attention is somewhere else (it’s usually on rehearsing their next comment or question!).
The main aim of this approach is to get into the habit of learning about the other person and discovering what makes them tick. People are truly fascinating, as you will discover.
A side effect is that you’ll never again have to worry about ‘what to say’ in casual conversation. You simply take a genuine interest in other people. SELF-consciousness is replaced with OTHER-consciousness.
Use this with people close to you, too! You may be surprised to discover how little you really do know about them… or about what makes them ‘tick’.
Being a blank slate and having an attitude of sincere interest in their “Frame of Reference” is one of the most respectful ways of creating rapport with people. It is also one of the prerequisites to being able to coach and influence others effectively and efficiently.