Episode 19: Effective Communication: Engaging In Powerful Conversations with Dr. Marcia Reynolds
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Episode 19: Effective Communication: Engaging In Powerful Conversations with Dr. Marcia Reynolds
Are you someone who struggles with communicating and connecting with others effectively, especially when there are strong emotions involved? In this episode, I have the pleasure of speaking with Master Certified Coach, Dr. Marcia Reynolds, an expert in teaching others how to engage in powerful conversations that connect, influence and activate change even when emotions are strong.
I have the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Marcia Reynolds, President of Covisioning. Dr. Reynolds is a highly sought-after coach and speaker. We’re fortunate to be able to speak with Dr. Reynolds, who’s going to share with us her expertise in communicating and interacting with others more effectively, especially when emotions are running high. Marcia, welcome. It’s a pleasure speaking with you.
Thank you, Lisa. I’m happy to be here.
Marcia, I thought we’d start by having you give our readers a little bit of background about yourself and how it is you came into your journey into coaching.The smarter the person, the more rigid they’re thinking. Click To Tweet
I spent several years working for companies and training departments. Although sometimes it was technical training, the majority of the training was around leadership and communication skills. That ended up being my path. The last company I worked for, we were very successful. I claim a part of that. I designed the cultural change as part of the leadership team. We had an IPO. We were the top revenue producer in 1993. When I was told that I hit a glass ceiling, I was like, “We did well. I’m going to take my money and run.” A week before I was going to leave, I read this article about this thing called coaching. This was in the mid-1990s. I said, “This is interesting.” My most meaningful conversations with the executives were always one-on-one where we could explore more deeply into what was going on. I wasn’t really coaching because I didn’t know what that was. I had a sense that this was going to be a good thing. It was a good sense because it was the right timing.
I joined a coaching school. That coaching school is Coach U. They were the ones that started the International Coach Federation. I was a part of the initial membership. I was the fifth global president. In the first year, people would say, “What do you do?” I’m like, “I do training, speaking and this coaching thing.” It took at least a year for me to say, “I’m a coach.” I’m proud to say that now. I’m also proud of the growth, the expansion that coaching has had around the world in all these years when we were thinking, “This might be a good thing.” That’s what took off was teaching leaders how to coach, coaching executives. That has been the focus of my work and even my writing and what I do.
In terms of having a coach, you’re right. This is one of the purposes of The Coaching Connector is to get the word out about what coaching is and how life-changing it can be. Our goal here is that someday everyone would naturally have a coach.
That was our hope from the beginning, that people would recognize that. My favorite hobby is collecting degrees. I have two Master’s degrees and a Doctorate. Part of that is I’ve been so curious all these years or decades on how do people learn, how do we think and how can you change someone’s mind. A lot of my research has led me to not only how coaching works in the brain and why it’s critical in helping people to think more broadly for themselves. It’s also whether it’s learning theory, psychology, whatever you look at, we don’t do this well for ourselves if at all. The idea of self-reflection is people say they can do it but it’s almost impossible. Our brain blocks us from digging in. We’re master rationalizers. We want everyone to agree with us. When you have an external person to hold up the mirror and ask questions that make you stop and think about your thinking, it’s an invaluable partner to have in your life, to help you to do something you can’t do by yourself.
I tell the clients I work with that it’s much easier for me to have a different perspective on your mind because I’m not in there. A lot of times, it’s being able to reflect back saying, “See what your mind’s doing.” You have a book, Outsmart Your Brain. Our brain and our subconscious mind, it’s so tricky. When it’s trying to sabotage us or limit us, it doesn’t come at us with a neon light saying, “This is what’s going on here.”
People forget that the brain’s primary purpose is to protect you, not to make you intelligent, a critical thinker and all of that. Number one, it’s not just to protect you physically but also to protect you mentally, which means that I’m going to stop any type of attack. Even when you’re thinking to yourself, “What’s the right thing to do?” we start to analyze our own thoughts critically that’s an attack. The brain says no. That whole thing about, “My brain is my best friend,” your brain doesn’t serve you in a lot of cases. That is why it’s Outsmart Your Brain. That was my first book, and on my website, I’ve stayed with it on the second edition of that. Can you stop and say, “What is my brain doing? Is it serving me? Do I say, ‘Thank you, brain but I need to tell you what to do?’” It’s not right. It’s not yet well-designed for our growth, not intellectual growth. That has to be a deliberate choice. It’s different when you’re learning facts than trying to change behavior.
I had the great opportunity once to interview Robert Sapolsky up in Stanford. We had this wonderful conversation around, “The smarter the person, the more rigid they’re thinking.” Even though scientists and he’s a neuroscientist, are supposed to constantly be questioning what they know so they’re open to something new. He kept seeing that the older his researchers and scientists got, the less open to new ideas they were. This is even for those people who are in a profession that requires critical thinking. If it’s something that might be a threat to my credibility and my expertise, the brain will shut it down. Yet, for some reasons, it allows it when there’s an external source, to ask the questions and to share the observations. That’s the power of coaching.
Most people think coaching came from psychology or therapies. It doesn’t. What most people don’t know is that back in the turn of the century, the early 1900s, there was a guy named John Dewey who was a learning theorist, advocate, who wrote a book called How We Think. He is the one who coined the term reflective inquiry. He was looking at school systems. He said the best way for people to learn is through making powerful statements and questions. They have to stop and question themselves. It was Dewey that defined our profession. There was a guy a couple of decades later, in the 1940s, after he read Dewey’s book he said, “I predict there’s going to be this trailblazing profession in the future. I think there are going to be knowledge sherpas.” That’s what we are. We’re knowledge sherpas.The best way for people to learn is through making powerful statements and questions. Click To Tweet
It’s the process of stopping becoming more mindful of what your mind is doing. Then it allows you to take conscious control of how you live your life. That’s the key.
It’s the only way that we can grow is to do that. We, by nature, aren’t that open to learning. The older we get, that’s a natural thing. I love the whole concept of, “The smarter we get, the less we want to learn about ourselves.” We may learn about the world around us, but not so much about ourselves.
It’s that self-reflection that we’re not naturally leaning towards. Thank you for the background too about coaching. It’s to understand the history here. I love what you’re saying like, “Here’s coaching now. This is the way we can change the world.” With coaching, we get people living life more aligned with their true self. The more everyone does that, then we’re going to see even larger and larger shifts in the world. That’s what it’s all about. One of the specialties you have is what you call communication kinesthetics. You describe in your website that it’s how you can use your intentions, emotions, awareness and beliefs to transform any conversation into a difference-making experience. I would love to hear more about what that’s all about.
Kinesthetics is about touch. In coaching, it’s not just about the words we say. In coaching, it happens in the energy between us. Whether it’s coaching or any other leadership conversation, we’re impacting people with our mental state, with our emotions and how we judge them or not. We’re impacting the conversation. Yet, most people I know, when they’ve got a difficult conversation coming up, they rehearse the words. There are so many people who have written about all the other things that impact people that leave them feeling like, “You’re for me or you’re not for me,” that we have to consider. The three major elements that you must consider before you even go into a difficult conversation and you have to maintain them is intention, emotions and respect or high regard for the person.
I do a lot of work with leaders. Even my last book, The Discomfort Zone, was about leadership coaching. It’s more so for leaders than coaches. Coaches fall into this trap as well, to stop and ask, “What is my intention for this conversation?” Oftentimes for leaders, the intention is to change somebody, to fix them or to make them do something different. It’s not the intention of helping that person achieve their own goals. The moment that somebody feels like, “You’re not here for me,” they shut down.
Do they get defensive?
That’s right. It’s, “What is your intention?” because that’s going to impact your listening. First, do you know what’s important to the person? For example, let’s say you were trying to come up with ideas for a strategy. This one person kept interrupting and putting their ideas out. He had a tendency to put other people’s ideas down. Let’s say you want to have a conversation with this person. If you go in to give them feedback, you’re already setting up because feedback is focused on faults. You can open a conversation with some feedback, but it’s based on the impact of the behavior. It’s like, “Yesterday in the meeting, you were interrupting people and criticizing their ideas. As a result, people shut down.” Here’s where the intention comes in. If you know the person wants to be seen as a leader or wants to be seen as credible, you say, “I know you want people to respect what you know. I know you want to be seen as a leader. It’s their goal that matters. Yesterday, you were interrupting people. As a result, people shut down. We weren’t getting any new ideas. I know you want to be seen as a leader and a credible source. Would you be willing to have a conversation with me about how you could do things differently so people would judge you as a strong leader and a credible source?”
It’s much more an empowering message than a critical message.The smarter we get, the less we want to learn about ourselves. Click To Tweet
The intention is, “I’m here to help you, not I’m here to fix you, change you and help get you to meet my goals.” Even for coaches, especially newer coaches, they go in with, “I want to make a difference here. We’re going to have a breakthrough. That’s about me as a coach, not about you.” That disrupts presence if you don’t go in with, “I don’t know what’s going to happen. This is going to be an amazing session. Let’s see what shows up. I know this person has these goals. We’ve been working on them. Let’s see where we can move forward on their goals.” You’ve got to check your intention. That’s the first thing. The second thing, it sounds easy, be aware of what emotions you’re bringing into the conversation. If it’s a difficult conversation, leaders are often angry or disappointed. Can you shift that to be calm, curious, hopeful and care? Even for coaches, they often go in with a little trepidation, some fear or maybe too much eagerness. Can you shift to, “I am curious and I care?” You need to check and choose your emotional state.
The third thing is, “Do you believe this person is creative, resourceful and whole?” That comes back to the ICF definition of coaching. It’s a partnership with a person who’s quite capable of seeing things differently if we facilitate that process. That’s what we’re doing. We’re knowledge sherpas. We’re facilitating this so they can discover a solution because it’s based on a new perception. That’s how we’re helping them. We have to believe that this person has all the capabilities of doing that. That urge to give advice, it means you’ve fallen out of believing in them. Can you maintain that sense that they’re creative, resourceful and whole throughout the conversation?
It’s that partnership rather than a power differential between two people saying, “I know what’s best for you better than you do.” In that way, you’re disempowering them.
That’s the distinction between coaching, therapy and consulting. Even with therapy, it’s a doctor-patient relationship. Some of the therapies look similar to some of the things we do in looking at limiting beliefs and cognitive processes. The relationship is different. It’s not a doctor-patient relationship in coaching. It’s a partnership. That’s our distinction. That’s an important thing for all coaches to remember. We partner with them. We aren’t smarter. We aren’t better. We don’t know more. Occasionally, with my executives, there is a shift where it’s like, “They don’t know because they don’t have the experience.” It comes out through the coaching that they’ve never experienced this before so there’s nothing to draw on. I would never assume that. I would want to discover it first.
You have many solutions for facing some difficult conversations. You’ve given us the outline of the intentions, emotions and respect. Are you able to give us any examples from your work with coaches of how you’ve helped people be able to do this?
That intention thing is an important aspect that a lot of times people don’t recognize. I was asked to coach this woman who was a leader. It was her behavior on her leadership team, with her peers. She was good with her direct reports. In meetings with her peers, she was often sharp and critiquing. This was a global company. She had taken a position in Panama. She was Dutch. Her peers were all Latin American. There were a few cultural differences to start with. Her boss had told her that he would not promote her until her peers saw her as a leader. She wanted that promotion. He had told her that she got to change. What she did was she quit insulting people, but every time they would give an idea, she would sigh and roll her eyes.
He was giving her advice to change her behavior. They asked me to coach her. I went the other way. I looked at what is it she wants. Why does she want this promotion? What’s important to her? We’ve gone into talking about the value of leadership, why she wanted to be a leader and what does a leader mean? It took a number of sessions. When we looked at, “What does a leader mean to her?” and flipped it to, “What do you think leader means to them?” Her given goal was that her peers see her as a leader. That’s where the conversation stayed. That was the intention. Is that serving you or hurting you in terms of your peers see you as a leader? It was about the third session when she said, “I think I’ve broken trust. I’m not sure they’ll ever trust me.” It’s like, “Is that what we need to work on now? How can you rebuild trust?”
You’re helping her ability to empathize and see it from their perspective.Be present and the right thing will come forth. Click To Tweet
This is what I call coaching the person, not the problem. I’m doing a session on that at the Global Conference in Prague. How do you stay with the person and coach them, identify what are their blocks to reaching their goals and what beliefs do they have that are keeping them back? I use a lot of reflection in my coaching where I say, “You’re telling me that you believe this or I saw you shift. When you talked about this other option, you got excited about it.” Ask questions. Many coaches think it’s all about the question. Holding up the mirror is as powerful if not more. I’m writing a new book on that, how to do that well, how we do reflective inquiry and not just inquiry. It’s so powerful. That’s when we can shift a difficult conversation. First, I set up my kinesthetics so the person knows I’m there for them. I create psychological safety because I’m fully open, curious and I care. I do respect them, no matter what it is that they have done that. It seems crazy. I still hold them in high regard. They have a sense. When I hold up the mirror, even if it causes a reaction in them, they stay with me because they feel safe enough to do that.
You know someone is reflecting back to you because you want them to get this, not because you want to be critical of them. People can sense that. I love the idea of reflection. I often tell people, it’s like, “When you were getting ready in the morning, did you use a mirror at some point?” Most people say, “Yes, at some point.” I’m like, “Why did you use a mirror?” You use the mirror because it gives you a reflection of you that you can’t have because you’re you. When you see the reflection in the mirror, you can adjust your shirt or whatever. Largely, that’s what you’re talking about. You’re creating that reflection and say, “Do you see what you’re doing here? Do you see what your mind’s doing here?” Then they can make the adjustment. Thank you for describing the wonderful example and how you are helping people move through those difficult conversations and get themselves to a place of empowering themselves, empowering others especially leaders. One of the techniques you use is listening with your head, heart and gut visualization process. Do you mind giving us a little sample or taste of what that process might involve?
This woman, Shari Geller, is a therapist up in Toronto. She was doing this research around what they call therapeutic presence. They found that when they open their entire nervous system, your head, your heart and your gut are completely connected by one big nerve, the vagus nerve. They would do exercises to open their mind with curiosity. You open your heart with love, with care and with gratitude. You open your heart with courage. If you go into a conversation, fully open at the three major centers of your nervous system, what they found in this therapy was that trauma patients that have never spoken of their trauma in their life felt safe enough for the first time to speak of these things. When I said psychological safety, it’s a feeling. It’s a sense. It doesn’t come from what you say. It comes from energy. You can find this visualization on my website. There are a lot more descriptions in the book. It’s going through and starting with your mind.
I took a technique from a sports psychologist I worked with once. He would have an elevator or lift in your brain. You put all your thoughts on it and watch the door close. You say the word curious to yourself. You open your mind. You see the elevator float down. It floats and sits next to your heart. When the door opens, you see somebody or something that you deeply care about and so grateful that you have or had in your life and your heart expands. You sit with that for a little bit and say the word to yourself, whether it’s gratitude, love or whatever opens your heart. The door closes. You see it float again down to the center of your body, which is just below your navel. When the door opens, you see this warm glow. It fills up your body from the center of its warmth and it’s strength. You breathe in the word courage. You breathe it all the way into the center of your body. This opens up your gut. You can breathe with that and try to keep those. The interesting thing is it’s going to deepen your questions. If you catch yourself going back into your head, analyzing and thinking, go back and open your heart or open your gut. It’s amazing the difference in the reflections and the questions you ask.
I’m going to be using that technique myself. It’s not just in terms of even the breathing, the connection and the imagery, but also the keywords. It’s curiosity, love and courage. What a wonderful technique. Thank you so much for sharing that with us. Is there a final word of wisdom you’d like to share with our readers?
From The Discomfort Zone, they want you to be present more than they need you to be perfect. Many coaches these days, especially if you’re going for a credential, you want to hit the competencies. You want to be the perfect coach and ask the most powerful question. It’s simpler than that. Be present and the right thing will come forth.
That goes for any relationship in your life. I’m thinking about being a parent. Your children need you to be present. You don’t need to be a perfect parent. Thank you so much, Marcia. What is the best way for our readers to contact you?
My website is OutsmartYourBrain.com. I’m [email protected]. I’d like for them to take a look at that. My three books are on my websites. You can look at the book. We’ve talked about The Discomfort Zone and Outsmart Your Brain. My doctoral research was on the challenges that high achieving women face in the workplace. That book became Wander Woman because we get restless, bored and need to change things up. We wander. I do some work with women around my book, Wander Woman. That’s all up on my website. Please take a look at that. I’m on LinkedIn and Facebook. If you have a special request, email me.
Marcia also has a profile on The Coaching Connector. Please also check out her profile there as well. Thank you so much, Marcia. I appreciate the words of wisdom and the techniques that you shared with us. Some of them, I’m going to be starting to use myself.
That brings us to the end of this episode. Please remember to visit www.TheCoachingConnector.com for more articles on Guiding You Through the Maze to your best personal and professional life. Please remember to subscribe to Guiding You Through the Maze. Share a link with anyone you think would benefit from the information we’re presenting. We’re so glad to be part of your journey. This is Lisa Lentino signing off and wishing you much success.
- Coach U
- International Coach Federation
- Outsmart Your Brain
- How We Think
- The Discomfort Zone
- Shari Geller
- [email protected]
- Wander Woman
- LinkedIn – Marcia Reynolds
- Facebook – Marcia Reynolds
- The Coaching Connector – Marcia Reynolds
About Dr. Marcia Reynolds
Dr. Marcia Reynolds is a Master Certified coach and highly sought after speaker. She is an expert in teaching others how to engage in powerful conversations that connect, influence, and activate change, even when emotions are strong.
- Lentino, L.M. (2014). Constructive thinking how to grow beyond your mind. Sudbury, MA: Grow Beyond Your Mind.