Acceptance and change

I may have triggered something with my previous blog about difference and repetition, something about duality and the power of this concept. Duality here is taken in its more common sense of the observation that opposite things seem to keep each other in balance and complement each other. Duality as in the intertwining of the Yin and Yang in Eastern culture, as in life and death, where death means the end of life but also gives its meaning to life. A duality so well expressed in the famous drawings of Esher, where the opposites (for example below angels and demons) are actually defining one another in the most literal sense. And after having pondered the dual movement of difference and repetition, I am now playing with some thinking around change and acceptance. Let’s do some Eshering of these concepts, shall we?

Coaching is about knowing oneself and it is about changing things around. My clients come to me because they believe they could benefit from changing some things in how they are at work and become better at what they do, often, better at leading others. And in our work, we do talk a lot about how, in front of a given situation, it is the force of habit that’s guiding our conduct rather than a good pondering of what would be best. And at the start there is the consideration that if my client wants a different outcome he must change something: if I keep doing the same things, it is likely that I’ll keep getting the same results: a simple but powerful postulate in the coaching work. Yet, in looking at things this way, we may overlook this other important ingredient in the coaching work, which is: acceptance. Sometimes, it is not about creating change but accepting that things are what they are. Actually, this piece of work may yield the most results. We are, particularly in our modern societies, the makers of our own lives. We are summoned to make our biographies outstanding and unique. In this context, being in the action and wanting to change something comes naturally, accepting that things are as they are, less so.

It all starts really with knowing oneself. I often propose my clients to collect some 360 degrees feedback from their colleagues and rendering this feedback generally triggers interesting conversations about who my client is at work. And in this conversation, if we are able to bracket our judgement and really accept to draw a portrait of the client that best reflects his being at work, we often establish something that helps us understanding better what is working well and what is more difficult. Duality is helping greatly in this exercise too: oftentimes it is the strongest quality of my client that also creates his challenge: it is because Peter is holding very high standards in delivery that he is so reliable, yet it also means that he may be more challenged keeping tight deadlines and managing many tasks. Dorine is an excellent team player, she listens intensely and shows great empathy, but this very quality makes it difficult for her to keep her own boundaries. David is extremely driven and able to achieve good results in the most challenging circumstances, yet his very outspoken personality makes it difficult for him to see value in different characters and hence to excel in team work.

I have noticed that it is at least as important to determine what are the strengths in one’s way of working as it is to look at possible developments, and it is often a game changer and a liberating experience to see how the two are related because this understanding creates acceptance. Once my client has a better understanding of his personality and how it drives a large number of behaviors, he is better able to see things holistically and make real choices about who he wants to become. Seeing how particular competencies create their own shadow side, which we may or not see as a weakness in a given context, can help my client understand who he is and accept himself better. Then, but I am tempted to say only then, comes the time to devise what could be changed. Knowing oneself better, accepting ourselves in our infinite differences, is therefore more than half the work and it creates this liberating view that things are not wrong, they are what they are, often as a consequence of precious skills we have developed. As in Esher’s drawing, the contours of the angel are outlining the devil. Duality: I told you.

We spend a considerable amount of our time pondering our lives and in this pondering we often wish things were different. And this little voice in our head, this voice that has acquired an almost dictatorial power in this Risk Society (inn the words of Ulrich Beck), is generally prompt in criticizing our own doing. Looking at our strengths comes less naturally, yet it is the key to seeing ourselves more holistically and with that comes acceptance. It is then from a much better place, a place where we stand in the stronghold of all these things we do well, that we look at those things we could change without losing any of our unique qualities.