Question: There are four birds sitting on a wire… two decide to fly off.  How many birds are sitting on the wire?

In our work with leaders around the world there comes a point in every workshop where the participants need to put into practice the skills and concepts they have been discussing.   An activity where participants are in groups of three, in this case one acts as the role of coach, one as the employee and one as an observer. It’s an ideal opportunity to put into practice the theory and concepts discussed during the class.  The last 2 hours of today’s program have been about the importance of making a connection, listening to the other person’s perspective, asking questions to seek more information, to better understand their point of view and then looking for solutions and a way forward.  (You may have been through a similar exercise, maybe it was about coaching skills, giving feedback, setting goals.  The focus doesn’t matter, it is the steps you go through that are the learning point.)

And in this case this was so.  We had discussed the importance of starting, not with our thoughts, but seeking out the other persons starting point.  The exercise went well.  The coaches remembered, and were able to apply the techniques in their ‘role play’, you could see the confidence of the participants grow.  We then switched to the observers.  They were now to ‘coach the coach’ and provide feedback on what had been observed, what went well, what could the person have done differently.

And that’s where everything changed.  The observers started out with something along the lines of

“Well you did this well, but I would have done this different” or “You didn’t do…”

Do you see what was missing?

Starting from the other persons perspective isn’t difficult.  They all knew that was what was where they were supposed to start, but when they weren’t aware of being in a ‘role play’ or classroom activity, the knowing was forgotten and the doing didn’t happen.

As with most things we learn in order to improve our effectiveness, to increase the value we bring, the concepts aren’t that difficult, we quickly get to ‘knowing’ the challenge is in making these new ideas into habits, ‘doing’ can be hard.

The advice? remember that life is a ‘role play’ – there is no predefined script (as much as we may wish that others would follow one!).  If you want to improve then you need to practice.  You have to decide to change how you behave, to learn new habits.

How could the observers have approached this exercise?  By starting with

“how do you think that went?” or “what would you do differently if had the opportunity”.

If you can start from the other persons perspective you will find providing ongoing feedback and support so much easier and likely to be less confrontational – for you or them.

As to our original question… there are still four birds sitting on the wire!