Coaching to Explore Beliefs and Motives

Understanding What Drives Your People

Coaching to Explore Beliefs and Motives - Understanding What Drives Your People

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People's beliefs and motives can drive them to reach the top.

Self-awareness is important because it helps us make the right choices in life, and it helps us understand how we relate to other people. Having an accurate understanding of your beliefs and motives is a key part of developing it.

For example, what makes you do the work you do? (Aside from a paycheck, that is!) What choices do you make when choosing who you work with? What are your principles? What will you defend, or even fight for? Why do you behave or react the way you do, when faced with a demand or a challenge?

These questions are important, because people's attitudes are key to their success or failure at work. If their values and beliefs are strongly aligned with those of your organization, and if they're motivated by the work they do, then they're likely to be exceptionally productive. In itself, this makes it important to support and reinforce the values you need.

In coaching, working with values and beliefs doesn't mean challenging people's religious outlooks or personal philosophies. But it does mean examining the source of their energy, and exploring how to work with that energy for the best results.

While most of us think about our beliefs and values from time to time, coaching can really bring these to life. This is because coaches ask questions that coachees (the people being coached) might avoid on their own, helping them get a more accurate and detailed picture of what motivates themselves.

This article looks at how the coach, and the manager as a coach, can work with people to help them to understand their own beliefs and motives. This can help these people make better choices, so they get the most from their daily lives – particularly at work.

Understanding What Drives Us

At a shallow level, we work hard to get the things we want and need in life – whether these meet our basic needs, such as housing and food, or involve, for example, buying a fancy car to impress the neighbors. To some extent, this is true – and those needs and wants will vary greatly from person to person.

But at a deeper level, we're more complex than this. Our behaviors don't always follow the pattern of simply working hard to get what we want. So it's important for managers to be able to uncover what really drives and motivates people, so they can help them enjoy their work and get real satisfaction from it.

One way of approaching this is to ask coachees to choose and prioritize from a list of values. Coachees can do this by creating a list of their top 10 or 20 values (as outlined in our article What Are Your Values?), or by considering the same words as comparison pairs. Here, the coachee would choose between, for example, Achievement versus Serenity, or Self-control versus Spontaneity.

This coached approach to understanding values takes time, so don't rush it. It's often best to spread the process over two or three meetings to allow for some thinking time, and to compensate for the specific effects of events on any one day. For example, on a day when large household bills arrive, the coachee might place a lot of weight on job security, compared with another day, when intellectual challenge seems more important.

This approach to understanding the relative importance of personal values is particularly powerful when making career choices. Once coachees understand what they want from their working lives, they can make choices that suit their deeper values, rather than simply doing things that "pay the bills." If you, as a manager, can develop an approach to motivation that addresses and satisfies these values, then you can help these individuals become exceptionally effective in the workplace.

Self-Limiting Beliefs

The other way that people's beliefs affect their work is when those beliefs hold them back. Self-limiting beliefs, or mental blocks, are thoughts that are not true and that damage our effectiveness. These tend to be based on certain experiences, or on ideas and norms we've acquired from our culture, upbringing, or peer group.

We can have thousands of thoughts each day, and very many of these thoughts are repeating. That's why, over time, we can start to believe our own version how the world is.

Sometimes, what we believe is wrong. Perhaps we've interpreted someone's actions or words incorrectly. Or perhaps we've learned the wrong lesson from a mistake in life, and, as a result, we've been unable or too fearful to pursue a similar action again.

Here are some examples of self-limiting beliefs:

  • I can't achieve success, or I don't deserve to achieve success.
  • I will fail.
  • I'm not liked by others, and I'll be rejected.
  • What I've been asked to do is impossible – or impossible for me.
  • What I'm trying to do can be achieved only one way, and there aren't any alternatives.

The manager's job is to work with coachees to uncover and deal with self-limiting beliefs that are getting in the way of the coachee's job performance. Coachees may be unaware of the real cause of these blocks, but may be aware of symptoms – such as lacking ambition, lacking hope, or lacking direction.

There are, of course, some deep beliefs that require assistance beyond coaching. But generally, once people recognize that one of their thoughts isn't true and that it's holding them back, they start to make progress and overcome the issue.

A good technique for coaches to use to help deal with mental blocks is a variation on Force Field Analysis. Instead of looking at the pros and cons of a decision as you would in Force Field Analysis, you explore the coachees beliefs and thoughts, and identify the positive beliefs that are helping them progress, and the negative beliefs that are holding them back.

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For example, imagine coaching a team member and having a conversation like this:

You: Okay, we figured out that you don't want to apply for the sales manager job because you're afraid you might fail. Why is that an issue?
Team member: Because I think everyone will laugh at me, and I'll lose respect in my job.
You: Is that true?
Team member: Probably not, but it feels like it.
You: When has that happened before?
Team member: It hasn't happened at work. But I remember when people used to make fun of me for wanting to be on the basketball team at school.
You: And what did you do about that?
Team member: I didn't join the team.
You: How did that make you feel?
Team member: At the time, it felt better than hearing the negative comments. But now I feel angry, because I was good at basketball. I had all the skills. I was just shorter than the average players on the team.
You: So, how would you do it differently now?
Team member: Get on the team and prove them wrong.

This is a shortened version of this type of conversation. The real discussion might take a few hours, or take place over several coaching sessions. But this example provides a good guide on how coaching can uncover these self-limiting beliefs.

Sometimes, our previous experiences create beliefs that aren't true and hold us back. By working with a coach, people can identify these false beliefs and overcome the effect those beliefs might have on their current situation.

Key Points

Having an accurate understanding of our beliefs and motives can help us make better choices so we can get the most out of our lives, especially at work.

You can use coaching to help coachees to define their beliefs and values with greater accuracy. Work with them to identify their priorities, roles and values in life. You can also help them understand their motivators, and give them some perspective on beliefs and thoughts that could be holding them back.

Once they have a better understanding of their beliefs and motives, they can strive for what they really value, and overcome any obstacles that are affecting their performance and growth - at work, and in their personal lives.

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Comments (4)
  • Over a month ago BillT wrote
    Hello ALVB1969,
    It's always great to find a reassuring frame of reference.

    Bill
    Mind Tools Team
  • Over a month ago ALVB1969 wrote
    Thank you - makes me feel normal with the self-limiting beliefs going on and knowing they can be unpicked.
  • Over a month ago Michele wrote
    Hi Sarahwarug,

    Identifying core values and beliefs is an essential element in coaching. Values and beliefs define what is important to us and guide our actions, words and choices. Before coaching others, consider identifying what you value in life and in your work. It is a powerful exercise.

    We appreciate your feedback on the article.

    Michele
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