Let the conversation change you.

“Let the conversation change you”  by Aileen Gibb

 It goes without saying that a great coaching conversation is one that results in some degree of change – whether it be an action, an insight or a full-blown transformation (yes those do happen) — something is different as a result of the conversation.

There has been a theme to my conversations this past week. On at least three occasions, I talked with leaders about the changes they needed/wanted to see in their teams. What struck me is how these conversations started out focused on ‘what’s wrong’ or ‘what’s not working with ‘them’ (i.e. the team members). Either the leaders are wanting others to change, or the others want the leaders to change.

One thing I know I’ve learned from my years of coaching is that there is truth in the saying that you cannot change another person, you can only facilitate them finding a reason to create a change in themselves. Even if you think your job as a leader is to change people. Sorry, it still won’t work.

My coaching conversations with leaders this week unfolded with questions, not around what the leader could do to change others, but around bringing them to the ‘aha’ moment of how the leader himself might change how he’s holding the conversation, what questions he’s asking, what judgements or assumptions he might let go of, where he might be more open to what’s needed and ultimately how he might connect with how others see things.

Pretty much a reinforcement of that well-known adage “Be the change you want to see in the world.” And yet there is perhaps something a bit more subtle involved.

If as a leader you change from seeing the negative in a situation and shift your perspective to looking for what’s good and positive, not only will you feel more energized in yourself, you will also be able to find solutions that build on people’s strengths and you’ll find this in turn increases their positive relationship with you. And as you turn the question to yourself and replace “what’s wrong with them” with “how might I be creating this situation and how might I shift the experience I’m creating for people” (and yes you may well need to work with your coach at this point) you’ll find that the possibilities start to appear and situations open up to new levels of success.

This quote from Theodore Zeldin’s book Conversation — “the kind of conversation I’m interested in is the one which you start with a willingness to emerge a slightly different person” —  describes a powerful change which is the opposite of the stance many take when entering a conversation with the expectation that the other person will change.

As coaches we learn to let the conversation change our client, while at the same time allowing ourselves to be changed by the experience. How often have you had a lightbulb moment of your own after a conversation with a client? Great conversations are more powerful that we know, if we allow ourselves to enter them with that willingness for change. 


Aileen Gibb


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