Challenging with compassion

I bet you have received feedback or had your thinking challenged at some point in your life. How did it make you feel? I've felt shame, defensiveness and fear through to feeling safe, love, and empathy. Some feedback has motivated me to do better and some that's left me feeling despondent. I know which I preferred. I just believed I couldn't give that kind of challenge myself.

Learning the difference between challenge and confrontation

In 2015 I remember sitting with my cohort on my coaching course and being asked what I felt I needed to work on. I said challenging people and giving them feedback. It’s something I had always felt I had struggled with. I didn’t want to offend people or make them feel bad. I didn’t want to deliver bad news. Latterly I realised I didn't trust my own voice or feelings - a hang-up from childhood. In my own head, I equated challenge with confrontation - it was aggressive and judgemental. But, whenever I was observed the feedback was always the same: I was challenging with compassion. 

This feedback was so important to me. I honestly thought that I couldn’t challenge people’s thinking without there being an argument. I felt better but I still worried about it. 

Over the years I have learnt to challenge my own assumptions, limiting beliefs and fears. I have learnt to do so with curiosity and compassion. I have opened myself up to being challenged more as a coach and seeing it as part of learning and becoming a better coach. Now I see that being challenged is not the same as being judged.

Effective decisions come from being open to challenges

Part of coming to a coach is to be challenged, most people come to make a change or because they are experiencing a change.

We know that being open to challenge allows us to be our best selves. It allows us to be open to different perspectives, embracing situations where past decisions and outlooks are openly challenged opens new possibilities, which leads to more informed decisions. However, it’s not always easy to handle in the moment. We get attached to our ideas, and our emotions. This is why challenging with compassion is so vital in my opinion. 

Learning how to move past resistance and blocks is a key part of personal and leadership development. Barriers show up in all shapes and sizes and practising our innate capacity for compassion can be just as challenging for the person who is providing the observation/feedback as for the person receiving it. 

Challenging with judgement

So often, challenge can be seen as a judgement. This judgement makes it hard to tap into connection and empathy. This works both ways - if I, as the coach, choose to judge my client I break our connection. If the coachee sees my challenge as judgement upon them or their choices, they may feel defensive and we lose rapport. 

It is my belief that no-one deserves my judgement. Sure, as a human I find myself occasionally judging others but I consciously work to see others through compassion. I see folks suffering, self-sabotaging and feeling stuck. 

The realisation that action can be complex and challenging can generate doubt and fear about acting: Will my effort be enough? Can I succeed? Will I be overwhelmed by challenges? Often these fears are limiting beliefs we’ve imagined. 

People come to me because they are finding life hard. Typically what they are experiencing is symptoms of deeper wounds/beliefs that can be challenging to heal. And yet, here they are, taking the courage to ask for help. 


Challenging with compassion

The antidote to judgement is understanding. Specifically, I understand how any behaviours may have arisen. By challenging them in a compassionate and empathetic way, I give my clients space to be courageous. To acknowledge and face their fears. It is my job to let them decide what action would be most helpful to them and to act in their own best interest.

As a coach, my job is to be professionally compassionate and invite my clients to be vulnerable. But in order to keep myself feeling able to have compassion for others, I need to open myself up to the compassion of others. It reminds me of the courage it takes to be open. 

As compassionate leaders, we need to heighten our awareness, deepen our understanding, and build up our courage. That is how we set the barriers aside and set action into motion.

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