By: Shen Gullery
Diversity Coach, SINGAPORE
“Allowing” and “forcing” in a coaching context are not difficult concepts to understand. In general terms, allowing has more positive connotations. We find it more agreeable and more natural to accept, permit, or just let happen. Forcing, on the other hand, is more associated with imposing and demanding. It implies a break from a natural course of things.
However, if we examine the most obvious definitions more deeply, our perception of these terms may change. Will you allow yourself to take a break while everybody else is working diligently? Will you accept the slow pace of your progress or just let your child find its own way of developing a new skill without feeling the urge to do something about it? When it comes to what allowing and forcing imply in actual practice, most of us may feel uneasy with allowing, simply because it feels passive, indecisive and even weak. Forcing, in practice, often has a more positive note, especially when associated with being determined, committed and disciplined.
Allowing and forcing are both attitudes and actions. In what circumstance is choosing one attitude and its corresponding action more beneficial than the other? What implications do our choices have?
Let’s start by asking ourselves some questions. From a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being very low and 10 very high:
- How often do you feel you can fully accept people, things and situations the way they are, without feeling an urge to exercise some influence?
- How often do you feel comfortable with letting things unfold rather than trying to influence their outcome?
- How often do you accept the way things turn out, without being too attached to how it happened?
The answer to the first question shows our inclination to accept things the way they are. Allowing in this respect does not mean taking on a fatalistic attitude, but rather suspending judgment and embracing the imperfect reality. The benefits of assuming an allowing attitude towards the state of things are two fold.
On the one hand, by allowing people and things to be the way they are, we create a space for change and growth to come forth from intrinsic motivation. If we tell people to change even if it is for their own benefit, they may question, dispute, resist or just be passive, although we are acting with best of intentions. If, however, we allow them to be themselves, people feel accepted, respected and will naturally gravitate towards changing themselves for the better.
On the other hand, when we feel the urge to improve people, change things or manipulate a situation, this desire is more often than not a reflection of our own judgment. A judgment can be false or biased. How can we be sure the way we deem as better is indeed an improvement of the status quo? Apart from a questionable outcome, we also set ourselves on a collision course with the current situation. Fighting an uphill battle to achieve an unsure or maybe unnecessary result does not benefit anyone.
The answer to the second question shows our readiness to trust the process and allow things to unfold in their own way. This is more challenging as we live in a society that is very much attached to results and outcomes.
Allowing in this regard may appear indecisive, passive or less efficient, but the outcome we eventually achieve will be more satisfying, better suited (if not optimal), and will contribute to boosting our client’s self-esteem. The process is lighter, involves less effort, and the outcome is more enjoyable.
Forcing a particular result may appear more determined, efficient, and display discipline and a strong will. Yet the process can be a struggle, the outcome may not be sustainable or bring less satisfaction. Over emphasizing efficiency can come at a cost of undermining the long-term effectiveness.
The answer to the third question shows our willingness to keep the goal in sight while allowing things to happen without being too attached to the “right way” of doing things. If we set our sights firmly on Rome, we trust that all the roads lead to Rome.
When committed to a particular goal, allowing people to choose the paths leading to this goal empowers them to make flexible and autonomous choices. The motivation to achieve the goal is more likely to come from within. The overall outcome is more sustainable and long lasting.
We all have plenty of experience in being given a goal and a set path. How well did we perform? The majority of times we most likely delivered and performed as we were expected to. But were there not times when we had a sense of detachment, or a lack of motivation to carry out a task we agreed to do? Discipline and a strong will may not always bring the desired result, whereas some space and a little flexibility to make one’s own choices may work wonders at times.
Coaching is about change. It is a form of communication which aims at creating personal growth and enhancing performance. How will a coach’s choice between allowing and forcing affect her* coaching?