We try our best to screen potential coaching clients for “readiness for coaching.” We even ask them to download and read “How Do I Know if Coaching Will Help Me or My Young Adult Child?” before coaching starts. But every once in a while we conclude a few weeks into a new coaching relationship that it isn’t working well. These clients almost always tell us at the beginning of coaching that they want to work on changes in their personal and/or work situations. Yet, they are often “black and white thinkers” and their rigidity holds them back.
Rigidity Gets in the Way of Honesty
There is a passage from “How it Works” in what is referred to as the “Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book” that addresses the issue of rigidity and honesty:
Rarely have we seen someone fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. They are not at fault. They seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping a manner of living that demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.
Working the Coaching Program
The principal of being honest with yourself applies just as much to coaching clients as it does to people in recovery from alcohol or drugs. Fortunately, our clients have a much higher success rate than many people who suffer from addictions. Yet, if they are not ready to be honest with themselves, their chances of success are certainly less than average! In fact, they are way less than 50%!
Black and white thinkers often “wrestle” with the coach. However, those clients who are open-minded usually “peddle side by side” with the coach. We call this “readiness for coaching,” and we like to think of coaching as two people on a tandem bike. It doesn’t work well when either the coach or the coachee does all the peddling.
If the client’s strategy is to “outwit” the coach, he or she can be like someone who goes to AA because they were “ordered to attend” by a judge. When young adults do coaching primarily because their parents want them to do it (and are paying for it), it rarely works. If employees go to coaching just to appease their boss, it rarely works. Engagement – pedaling the tandem bike, while working hard on changing mindsets and behaviors – is what makes coaching work!
Experts as Black and White Thinkers
My husband and I have a couple of close friends whom we like very much. Yet, black and white thinking gets in the way of developing a more satisfying relationship with them.
One of these friends seems to feel that she is an “expert” on almost every topic we bring up. Invariably, she tells us a better way to do whatever we’re doing. She’s often right – and even well-intended! Yet, we get tired of hearing how we could say or do things “better.” It would be nice if she occasionally didn’t have an opinion about things we say or do.
Our other friend is apparently a self-appointed “commentator/pundit” with very few doubts about being wrong. He also seems to like being seen as an “expert.” When we’ve tried to mention different ways of collaborating on decisions, he is usually not receptive. He, too, is a sharp guy – and he often makes very good points. But his thinking can be rigid. In general, he’s what we would call a black and white thinker.
We like both of these individuals for their many attractive qualities. However, we have observed that they are better at shutting people out of their lives than they are at owning their own contributions to interpersonal dynamics. They also seem to seek out people with similar “world views,” rather than being curious about why others might see things from a different perspective.
How do you know if you are on “the right side” of an issue if you shut out those on the other side?
How Do People Become Black and White Thinkers?
Black and white thinkers are psychologically fragile. They believe that others are either good or bad, right or wrong. Accepting that others’ beliefs or actions may be right can be very anxiety-producing. It threatens their sense of who they are.
Black and white thinkers often miss out on the intimacy or depth they could have in coaching, workplace, or family relationships. They often can’t participate in a relationship of mutual respect and compromise that intimate partnerships require.
It’s scary for black and white thinkers to let go of their perceptions and their image of themselves as “experts.”
What Enables Black and White Thinkers to Change?
Black and white thinkers can change IF they have the capacity to:
- Become aware of their rigid thinking and that it often does not serve them well.
- Accept that their beliefs about the past and present may not be based on reality.
- Become truly honest with themselves.
- Empathize with how others may think or feel.
- Understand that others who disagree with them do not necessarily have negative intentions.
- Tolerate hurt and frustration, instead of running away from close relationships.
- Change their positions based on others’ input when there’s new information.
Can Coaching Help?
Fortunately, yes! The beauty of coaching is that it can build trust and enable people to tackle fears and explore new possibilities!
When a black and white thinker shows the capacity to change, we’ve seen amazing things happen:
- A college freshman thought he could play video games several hours per day with his friends, but insisted that he could still do well in college. After receiving an academic warning, he gave up video games and made a 3.2 the next semester.
- A senior-level supervisor who thought his team members were not working hard enough had a 360 Feedback assessment. He found out that his poor leadership skills caused most of the team’s performance problems. Afterwards, he signed up for leadership coaching and developed his team into a high-performance team within a few months.
Coaching can help black and white thinkers who are “ready for coaching.” Contact us today for a free consultation if you want to explore what coaching can do for you!