Coaching with Compassion vs. Coaching for Compliance


Week 5 talks about coaching with compassion (CWC) in contrast to coaching for compliance. In coaching for compassion, we move a person into Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) by initiating dialogues about hope, compassion, mindfulness, or even playfulness. On the other hand, coaching for compliance is consciously or unconsciously leading someone over to Negative Emotional Attractor (NEA) and this occurs when we tell someone what to do, how to do things, and how to feel. In short, coaching for compliance begins with the assumption that something is not right and therefore is in need of “fixing”. While the underlying intention is good, by asserting our view of how someone should act or how he or she should be pushes them towards NEA. And as soon as they go into the NEA mode, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is triggered and they become defensive and begin to shut down cognitively, perceptually and emotionally.

Interestingly enough, movement from PEA to NEA and vice-versa has been visually captured through fMRI scans. Dr. Boyatzis presented examples of how coaching with compassion (CWC) is key to leadership development and in creating resonant relationships. He described recent fMRI studies on coaching to the Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) versus the Negative Emotional Attractor (NEA). For example, patients who experienced shared Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) with their physicians showed increased treatment adherence for Type II Diabetics. In family businesses, a shared vision is also seen as key to predicting long term success and the same is true for IT managers and professionals where arousal of PEA (shared vision and positive mood) predicts effectiveness. It is also interesting to note that, fMRI studies show spending even just 30 minutes in a conversation about the PEA (i.e. talking about one’s vision or dream), activates regions of the brain associated with the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which promotes renewal and relaxation.

In small manageable amount, stress is beneficial to us because it can help us overcome daily challenges by giving us little boosts of energy and memory; it keeps us motivated and helps us accomplish tasks; physiologically, it can help protect our bodies from infection, and it is critical in arousing the fight-or-flight response necessary for survival. While we need a healthy dose of stress, modern life has afforded us more way more stress than necessary and we find ourselves overwhelmed which leads us to experiencing cognitive, emotional, perceptual and even physical impairment. The key then is for us to balance PEA and NEA in order to “survive and thrive”.

After learning the difference between coaching with compassion and coaching for compliance, I am struck at how much of the skills in CWC are transferrable in our daily lives, like a conversation to motivate someone to learn and change, or to get someone to do something or to influence another person’s thinking or action. In parenting for example, I tend to focus on the problem (i.e. Who made a mess? Why are all these books on the floor?) and less on the process (i.e. Where you playing with the toy house, cars, stuffed animals all the same time? Are you imagining that this is your castle?). Perhaps this is a ripe area where I can tap on the wisdom of CWC and motivate my kids towards PEA and then to a positive desirable behavior (i.e. cleaning up their toys). In coaching relationships, I could see CWC being used as a way to encourage reflection of how they envision their future career, rather than getting seeped into long discussions about one’s discontent and unhappiness in their jobs and trying to problem solve. I think the shift from the need to step in and resolve things to focusing on the process and the person is an important cognitive and emotional exercise particularly when our default seems to be “the fixer”.

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