Can You Change Your Stripes?

By Kristine Steinberg, CEO of Kismet

Behavioral change is one of the greatest challenges we face in the attempt to reach our potential. My work as a transformational coach is centered around helping strong-willed adults and leaders shift negative behaviors and instill more effective ways to interact and communicate.

A common form of resistance to this process is the argument that changing behavior is some kind of attempt to strip someone of authenticity. To this, I ask — is it authentic to have a negative impact and create disconnect with others? Berating someone when they have not met your expectations or walking around with stressed and angry energy knowing it will have an impact on the morale of those around you — these are not authentic, evolved behaviors.

My stance is that true authenticity is grounded in behavior that elicits human connection, empowerment, and motivation. Authenticity, the very nature of the word, assumes positivity.

When negative behavioral patterns become ingrained, it’s hard to see the detrimental impact and negative wake we are leaving behind. To shift out of these patterns requires a kind of self-work and vulnerability that is not for the faint of heart. Yet, it’s from this courageous work that we can find more effective ways to express our emotions — including frustration and stress — without projecting negativity onto others.

I am not in the business of changing a person’s stripes; but rather, helping one’s stripes come into focus, brilliantly — as they were always meant to be. Behavioral change is about returning to our true nature. To experience this shift, we have to increase our level of self-awareness through access to objectivity.

In my work, I go after objective data and feedback to create visceral awakenings. My goal is to uncover the nuances behind the strengths and weaknesses propelling my client’s forward or keeping them blocked. This process, though uncomfortable, is rewarded with higher levels of emotional intelligence, increased competence, and more gratifying and effective relationships.

One of my favorite examples of how this kind of feedback works involves a client that was mandated coaching and told me right away that he did not want to change, that he enjoyed being a jerk, and that he saw coaching as a “check the box” type of activity. I love this kind of challenge. I interviewed 12 people from his organization — his managers, peers, team members. It was clear from these interviews that his high performance, client engagement, and bottom-line impact to the organization was giving him the green light to maintain his arrogant approach. In other words, they weren’t going to fire him.

But what was also illuminated in this data was how badly he made people feel: undermined and insignificant, intimidated and fearful. And these subtle messages of the impact he was having on those around him somehow penetrated his ego. After he read through his report, I told him that he could quit coaching right then and save the trouble of wasting my time if he was not committed. Instead, he engaged with me for 6 months and is now a beloved C-suite leader of the company globally. His teams now say they would get onto a burning boat with him if he asked.

When leaders sign on to work with me, they agree to the deep discovery process described above. It is a brave act to take part in this process; it requires humility, vulnerability, and openness. It inspires me to think about the moment my clients agree to embark on this journey of self-discovery — think of the excuses, resistance, avoidance we all submit to when we are faced with the knowing that something needs to shift. So, when we finally feel the time is right to defy resistance, push through the stuckness, and reach for support and guidance, half the work is already done.

The process involves me gathering tailored feedback, advice, and wisdom from a diverse set of constituents who have a “stake” in my clients’ success. As such, I make it known to each participant that they have been invited into a sacred discussion requiring their commitment to support my clients’ success. To participate, they must adhere to the following guidelines:

  1. Be Honored: show respect for the courage it takes to go through a feedback exercise.
  2. Drop Judgment: come from a place of empathy and recognize that to be human is to be imperfect.
  3. Provide Feedforward: do not vent or tell stories about past failures, but rather provide advice and counsel for how to succeed going forward.

These best practices enable us to deliver feedback that will empower the person receiving it. Use these guidelines with your colleagues, friends, and family — and notice the positive impact.

In addition to guiding feedback givers, preparing feedback receivers is of equal importance. The following guidelines are not just useful for a formal feedback process, but for day-to-day living. We grow and evolve by internalizing useful feedback. And keep in mind, being known for receiving feedback well is an admirable and sought after leadership quality.

Guidelines for Receiving Feedback

  1. ASPIRE TO BE KNOWN FOR RECEIVING FEEDBACK WELL. Keep in mind that giving feedback is hard for most people. Take some pressure off by showing up open and relaxed. Being known for your receptivity is an important aspiration professionally and otherwise. Solicit and invite feedback regularly, then actively integrate what you have learned.
  2. ACTIVELY LISTEN. Relax your body language. Try to be fully present and engaged throughout the discussion. Once the feedback has been delivered, reflect back what you heard to ensure alignment. Ask good questions for clarity without using a defensive tone.
  3. DON’T GET DEFENSIVE. The appropriate stance for this discussion is to listen, receive, and be sure you have heard the feedback accurately. Never argue or defend yourself in a feedback session.
  4. ACCEPT. Accept the feedback and let the giver know that you will take it all into consideration. Ask for suggestions on how you can modify your behavior and overcome performance gaps.
  5. GRATITUDE. Feedback is a gift. It is one of the most powerful tools we have for professional and personal growth. Show your gratitude that someone took the time, had the courage, and considered your growth opportunities. Never punish or avoid the feedback giver.
  6. ACT. Take the feedback and put an action plan in place to address. Seek advice and coaching to improve on the areas illuminated. Find a regular check in time to get feedback from the original giver and others who work closely with you.

Coaching Questions to Consider:

  • Would you consider yourself receptive and open to feedback? If so, why? If not, what could you do better?
  • What is the best experience you have ever had when receiving feedback? Why?
  • What is the worst experience you have ever had when receiving feedback? Why?
  • What are 3 words most people would use to describe your strengths?
  • What are 3 words most people would use to describe your weaknesses?
  • If there was one behavior you could change to have a better impact in your relationships, what would it be?

Kristine Steinberg is the CEO of Kismet. She believes that your life should be deeply fulfilling — not tolerated. Partner with Kismet to dismantle fear, define your path, and lead with courage. Start your transformation today: www.thisiskismet.com.

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Kismet

Kismet

Your life should be deeply fulfilling — not tolerated. Partner with Kismet to dismantle fear, define your path, and lead with courage.