Thursday, June 9, 2011

The irritation of the "I want you to..." coaching cue - and alternatives

 "I want you to..." How often is that about the first thing we hear coming at us working with a trainer? or coming from us if we train folks? "I want you to..." This post is a wee meditation on a pet peeve: how the words we use working with others can have a profound effect on building or not building rapport.

Rapport of Domination?
I've worked with a lot of coaches in training and teachers in training - folks who are already practicing their professional craft. If there's one phrase that occurs more than anything else,  as the most constant training cue when the coach wants the athlete to do something, it's: "I want you to..."

How do you feel, if someone you have no rapport with yet, have no trust with yet, where this is perhaps your first time working together says to you "i want you to do..." whatever it is they want you to do? Do you feel willing? Do you feel inspired? Or do you feel a little threatened, a little defensive, irritated, even? Me, i'm annoyed. If this session is about me, why am i doing what you want? So, right there, i'll ask: "Why?" Why should i do this thing you ask me to do? And why should i do it for you?
More often than not, that question is a wrench in the wheel. The coach can't really explain either why i should do the thing, or they are flustered that they are being called on their authority. Or they could explain it, but they're not prepared to do so right at that moment, so flustered again. And for me to come back with "why" can be heard as pretty confrontational. And sometimes, they don't get it: they don't understand what i'm asking.  And there's a great rapport problem right there.
 Why the Irritant?
More often than not, coaches (and teachers) are thrown because they don't realize that this trope "I want you to..." that is constructed of words that have real meaning has become a space filler in inter-personal communication that has no meaning other than as something that sounds seemingly nicer than the more blunt "bend your leg" or "do ten push ups." But i think it's other than just space filler.

I think it's sloppy. Thoughtless. It means we've taken our communication for granted, and i don't think we can do that when our role is a coach. Let's consider the client perspective.

Whose session is this anyway?
My time with a coach is not about me working FOR that (unknown quantity) coach. I am not there to fulfill that coach's desire of "I want you to..." I am not extrinsicly motivated, nor do i wish to be so. As a teacher, i get freaked out when occaisionally a student says "i had to get this in on time; i was really worried about disappointing you."  Oh wow.  That one really makes me nervous.

As a supervisor, as a coach, i'm *just* the facilitator here; i've got some skills to pass on and some work we can do, and there's a cycle here in terms of a student learning from me till i start learning from them, and there's an agreement around practice and consequences of either party not sticking to the terms of that agreement (like getting something in on time for assessment; getting something back on time assessed; making a scheduled appointment; being ready for the client), but this rapport is not personal. It's not about whether or not i care. Yes, I will do the best i can for my students to create opportunities for success for them - that is what i see as part of my job: training of highly skilled personel. But it's not personal, and their session is not about me. 

Who cares what I want? What's received?
If someone wants to become a professional researcher, super. I know how to do that and can help someone develop the skills to do that really well. If someone wants to become better in their sport, super. I can help with that. If someone wants to move out of pain and perform better in life, super, i can help with that. But that goal has nothing to do with me. Dosen't mean i don't care about how someone does - and whether or not they are getting what they need, and thriving.

Indeed, in my heart  or aloud i am saying "my fond hope is that you will succeed, excel, and do way better than i have." But it does mean i'm not the focus of the process. And you know what? I'm pretty reluctant about expressing my personal wishes at all when working with folks - whether grad students or athletes. Personally, i try to present things in terms of what THEY should be able to get from a session - you know, goals/objectives for them. I mean, wouldn't it be weird if you picked up a text book and instead of the goals for the chapter, we saw "what i really want you to go away with from this unit is a deep passion for the field of anatomy"? Really? My student goals are since this chapter covers joints, preferably to learn about joints? How 'bout that? Will this material do that or not?

So i don't want to use a language with folks that goes anywhere near engendering an extrinsically focused and largely amorphous practice of "do this because it's what "i want" " rather than try this because, as best we can judge, it fits with what we're trying to accomplish together that are YOUR goals.

Language is a Virus
There's pretty good evidence that the language we use has a strong impact on how we create our realities.

If every client i see i say "i want you to..." what do those words mean? What am i telling myself all day? what am i telling them?  That my desire is primary in working with others rather than secondary to their needs?

Also, the word suggests i'm not very successful: want describes a lack. To have a want is to be deficient. I want you to do this: i have a personal emptiness or insufficiency of your doing this. No, i don't. My life is surely complete without someone doing a lunge.   Do i *want* to reinforce a lack? Build a dependency?

In z-health, we talk about the SAID principle all the time: that we adapt always and exactly to what we practice.  Is practicing want, and i want, an adaptation i want/lack/desire? big N.O. there.

So what are "I want you to..." alternatives?
It really is pretty easy to get out of the "I want you to..." mode. Here's a couple examples i've found work well:

If the goal is to help someone learn how to do a movement, why not coach the movement? For example,
"So movement X will support this part of your goal to do Y, so let me model it, and then you follow with me: from the forward lunge position, internally rotate the back foot like so...."
If working through a part of a set, why not make the set relevant to the goal?
"Since we've said we're focusing on this part of your stroke, we can build up this part of the stroke with some loaded mobility here, and for that, we need to get some fatigue happening, so let's go for 5 reps with a 10rep load for a set  - what is that for you? ok, great, and do X amount of recovery between sets, and we'll go till fatigue starts to show- i'll watch you for that. Ok? let's go.

Now some folks may say "i hate 'we' like 'how are we doing today'" - i understand - i get that. So the above example could be easily broken into a me/you framinging too:

We (cuz it is an agreement) have said we're focusing on X and a technique to do that is Y. And since to get there, a certain adaptation is required that's best induced by partial recovery, an option is to use shorter set rests, and appropriate load. So pick a weight that you could do ten reps with; the sets will go for five, and will have 30sec breaks between them. Ok? I'll keep an eye out for fatigue signs while you work. Let's begin.
Something like that. The differences are, it seems to me, that by getting forced out of "i want you to" we need to think about why we're asking someone to do something. Can we communicate why/how this makes sense in terms of a target. If we can't is there some deficiency in our knowledge? That can be fixed. Or is there a lack of a target? That too can be addressed. Or we feel awkward trying to explain stuff? There are strategies to develop skills for that too. If we don't want to develop those skills, what does that tell us about the focus of our coaching?

Off the "I" and onto the "Why"
On the client side, some folks may never notice the "i want you to..." or care. Or they may be fine with their coach saying "i want you to hold your foot here" or their teacher in a lecture saying "tonight i want you to read..." And sure, if there's sufficient rapport and trust that's been built up, one may be ok with the "I want you to..." But at that point, my bet is that it's just as easy to say "For this move, go like this" or "to get this concept, read the following." Simple phrases take the focus of the I and put it on the WHY. I think practicing that Why rather than I as a coach is important to rep.

mc with recent MIT PhD grad just
after his defence. Yes, very happy
for Max's success. It's *his* success,
and has been great to be part
of that process.
Maybe it's because i have a background in words, and theories of wordage that i get a little insistent that words we use have meaning. And when they're spoken, i take them seriously (maybe it's a Jesuit upbringing...).  They are part of that SAID specific adaptation to an asserted/imposed demand

And if that's the case, and we work together, i'd rather demonstrate in everything i do, including my words, that you're the star of the show; i'm there for you, on the terms we've agreed: times, payment, notice of change, all that mutual respect stuff. And that anything in that session is there to support your goals not my desires, gosh dang it.

ok? ok.

Thanks for listening.
I'm better now.
How are you?

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Kyle said...

Hmmm, so you're saying we should

be clear, have reasons for what we're doing, and explain them?

Sounds good to me :)

I think we'd all be interested to hear the story of the coach who inspired this rant!

Bodyology said...

Glad you discussed alternatives near the end, otherwise I could foresee the "I want you to..." earworm burrowing in & those words spilling out with every one of my clients today.

Interesting post as ever. Life & the internet are littered with coaches & teachers who encourage dependency, whether for their own ego or profit.

The best teachers aim to make themselves redundant; the best students realise good teachers never are.

mc said...

Hi Kyle, very witty summary.

No coach in particular - it really is just ubiquitous and remarkably across the board from coaches i encounter at certs or experienced folks lecturing - once you're attuned to it, its frequency is amazing. it's become a nails on glass thing to me, so i had to try to figure out why...oooo!

thanks for stopping by.

Hi Bodyology - thanks for your thoughts.

Really dig the last sentence. That's a keeper.


Divecat said...

I love your writing, but it would be much easier to read if you used a capital I when you are referring to yourself. It is never, never used in a lower case form and interrupts the flow when it is. Please take this feedback with the goodwill with which it is intended.

mc said...

So you just couldnt take it anymore, eh? well i feel your nails on blackboard response but must say, here, in this space, Sorry divecat, that just ain't gonna happen. I understand you've habituated to a particular convention and it's jarring when it's disrupted, but we're plastic people, and likely your brain has already developed the exception case to coming here, and is ready to process to forms of the first person pronoun. This is a blog. My blog. So I feel I have some latitude to explore certain conventions that - as they have irritated you - irritate me perhaps in reverse.

Perhaps the capital i is an odd Germanic language influence as the romance languages from which our language descends don't cap the I. Perhaps it's a left over from Germanic typesetting more than pre-printing press era? Will have to check mideaval manuscripts in middle English. Some Chaucer perhaps...hmmm...

How do such conventions get adopted? More intriguingly how do they get broken? Ah saussure, dead derrida, where are you to talk about the arbitrary nature of the signifier and the sign?
Hope you can manage ok with the eccentricities of my space on my blog to come back and enjoy the content here. If it's too much of a convention breaker, heh life is full of stress - this may just be one too many in a long day, and if so, well, I understand.

Take care and thanks for dropping by


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